A fundamental tenet of the Conservation Department for more than 75 years has been: “The hope of wildlife restoration and conservation in Missouri lies in the three-way cooperation of the state, the landowner, and the public, based upon adequate information and mutual understanding.” Following this tenet continues to serve Missourians well, and it has resulted in many significant conservation advancements.
Missouri’s forest, fish, and wildlife resources enhance our quality of life and connect us to our outdoor heritage. These resources support approximately 90,000 Missouri jobs and provide a $12.4 billion annual boost to the state’s economy. Conservation continues to be a wise investment.
One of the Department’s five broad goals is to ensure healthy and sustainable forest, fish, and wildlife resources throughout the state.
Monitoring wildlife diseases and minimizing their adverse effects is a Department priority. Examples include whirling disease in trout, thousand cankers disease in forests, and chronic wasting disease in deer. Wildlife resources we enjoy today could be lost if we fail to take preventive actions.
It is essential for the Department to focus on all species, and their varying needs in different habitats, to ensure sustainable populations. For example, ensuring healthy fish populations requires attention to our rivers, streams, and lakes, as well as commercial facilities. Ensuring healthy forests requires management considerations for forests in rural and urban areas, as well as in commercial nurseries. The same holds true for one of our state’s most popular wildlife species — white-tailed deer. Missouri’s deer herd includes both free-ranging and captive animals.
White-tailed deer are an important part of many Missourians’ lives and family traditions, including 520,000 deer hunters and more than 2 million wildlife watchers. In addition, Missouri’s deer herd is an important economic driver supporting 12,000 Missouri jobs and providing $1 billion annually to state and local economies. Missouri offers some of the best deer hunting in the country.
Chronic wasting disease has been found in both captive and free-ranging deer in north-central Missouri. The Department has been working with hunters, landowners, conservation partners, and businesses to detect cases of this disease and limit its spread. Regulation changes associated with managing the free-ranging deer herd have been implemented in six north Missouri counties, and restrictions have been placed on bringing hunter-harvested deer, elk, and moose carcasses into the state.
In addition, the Department has been working with the captive deer industry, landowners, and citizens to review existing management practices and regulations for captive deer. These efforts have identified portions of Wildlife Code regulations that need to be enhanced. These include fencing standards, animal testing standards, inventory requirements, and interstate transport.
The Department currently permits 44 big-game hunting preserves and 224 class-one wildlife breeders to hold captive deer. More than 200 captive breeders hold fewer than 50 deer, while only eight permittees hold more than 100 deer. While small in overall numbers, captive deer and how they are permitted must be considered to ensure the long-term health of Missouri’s deer population. With or without the threat of chronic wasting disease, areas of the Wildlife Code need to be enhanced to address risks associated with captive deer.
Existing fence standards for captive deer need to be enhanced. For example, captive animals can become free-ranging when trees fall on single fences or when streams wash out crossing fences. The Department is considering a double fence requirement.
There is also a need for real-time information on all captive deer herds. Inventory information should be up to date on each deer and clearly document where a specific animal came from and when it was removed (shot or sold) from the herd. Without this detail, the ability to complete “trace back” and “trace forward” herd checks is not possible when issues such as disease occur.
For several years, the Department has not moved free-ranging deer fawns beyond county borders. This is to help minimize potential disease risks. Many other states that allow captive deer herds have taken steps to close their borders to interstate transport of deer, including Florida and New York. The Department is considering closing Missouri to interstate transport of deer. Captive deer would need to be obtained from captive herds currently in our state.
Staff are also considering improvements to animal testing standards and contingency requirements in the event of disease outbreaks in captive herds.
The Department has conducted public meetings and gathered comments from Missourians regarding possible Wildlife Code changes associated with holding captive deer. Whether you support or oppose the proposed regulation changes, please share your views, be familiar with this issue, and encourage other Missourians to be informed. Find more information and share your comments on the Department’s website at mdc.mo.gov/node/16478.
Your input and involvement will help us keep healthy and sustainable forest, fish, and wildlife resources for future generations.
Robert L. Ziehmer, director
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