Ensuring the Health of Missouri’s Deer Herd
More than 500,000 Missourians enjoy deer hunting, sharing their hunting heritage, and passing that heritage on to future generations. Missourians consume millions of pounds of venison and share with neighbors in need through the Share the Harvest Program. The spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) could negatively impact deer-dependent businesses that support more than 12,000 Missouri jobs and generate more than $1 billion in economic activity annually. The Department is committed to taking action to ensure the long-term health of our state’s deer herd.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease that affects members of the deer family. It is different and unrelated to the recent outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases. Those diseases — blue tongue and epizootic hemorrhagic disease — are caused by viruses. Their effects are short-term and localized, and they are often not fatal. Hemorrhagic diseases have been in Missouri for years, and the white-tailed deer population can cope with them, in spite of temporary setbacks.
At its June meeting, the Conservation Commission voted to approve proposed amendments to the Wildlife Code of Missouri regarding the operation of Department-licensed big game hunting preserves and wildlife breeding facilities that hold white-tailed deer, mule deer, their hybrids, and other members of the deer family, known as cervids. These proposed changes for captive deer are a necessary part of the agency’s strategy, building upon regulations already implemented in 2011 to help minimize disease concerns in Missouri’s free-ranging white-tailed deer and ensure the long-term health of our state’s valued deer herd.
Individual landowners and citizens from several different organizations representing thousands of Missourians delivered testimony at the June Commission meeting. All comments received voiced strong support for advancing the proposed amendments for captive operations to address existing areas of concern, including: CWD and other diseases, fencing standards, cervid movement/shipping, and testing requirements.
Currently, Missouri has approximately 40 big-game hunting preserves and 220 wildlife breeders licensed to hold captive white-tailed deer. Cumulatively, these locations report holding 9,000 white-tailed deer. Industry-provided records indicate that more than 200 licensed captive wildlife breeders hold fewer than 50 deer, while only eight hold more than 100 white-tailed deer. While the number of captive white-tailed deer is small in size compared to Missouri’s free-ranging deer herd of 1.4 million, appropriate regulations are essential as captive deer are often moved across Missouri and from other states, increasing the risk of spreading disease.
- Proposed amendments approved by the Commission include:
- A ban on importation of live white-tailed deer, mule deer, and their hybrids from other states.
- Enhanced fencing standards for captive cervid facilities.
- A requirement for all deer 6 months or older that die in a Conservation Department-licensed facility to be tested for CWD.
- Improved record keeping requirements for Conservation Department-licensed captive cervid facilities.
- Prohibition of construction of new captive cervid facilities within 25 miles of a facility where a CWD-positive test has been confirmed.
These proposed amendments to the Wildlife Code are the result of nearly two years of extensive review, citizen input, and stakeholder engagement. They work to reduce the risk of the always-fatal chronic wasting disease spreading beyond the limited area where it has been found, while minimizing the economic impact on the licensed captive-cervid industry and the communities and businesses that benefit from deer hunting and deer-related activities.
Stated another way, these proposed amendments are designed to ensure Missouri’s deer hunting heritage and to ensure future generations of Missourians can enjoy our abundant white-tailed deer resource. The Department believes these steps are needed to better protect Missouri’s deer herd.
A formal 30-day public comment period, during which any citizen can provide additional input and perspectives, is anticipated to start on July 16. Our agency will compile and provide comments received to the Commission for consideration. Following the public comment period, the Commission will vote to adopt, amend, or withdraw the changes.
The Conservation Commission emphasized the importance of an informed, involved public to ensure the health of Missouri’s deer herd both now and in the future. Details of the proposed amendments, along with a video presentation shown at the meeting, are available at mdc.mo.gov/node/28400.
Given the importance of this topic, I ask all citizens to become informed on proposed amendments, to engage, and to provide comments to the Department. The Department wants to hear from you. Comments can be submitted online at mdc.mo.gov/deerhealth or on the comment card attached to this issue of the Conservationist.
Robert L. Ziehmer, director
This Issue's Staff
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair Terrill
Art Director - Cliff White
Staff Writer/Editor - Brett Dufur
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler