NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state wildlife conservation group is opposing a bill that would allow commercial deer farming in Tennessee, saying that doing so could help spread chronic wasting disease.
A House subcommittee is set to discuss the bill on Tuesday. (Note: It’s HB1112, in House Conservation Sub.)
“You’ve got a pure pathway for bringing that disease into the state, and the result, if you bring it into the state, is devastating,” said Mike Butler, CEO of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. The disease can spread rapidly and ultimately causes death once an animal is infected.
The bill would require state agriculture officials to license breeding operations to raise white-tail deer, primarily for hunting on private ranches, The Commercial Appeal reported.
More than 20 states allow the commercial raising of white-tailed deer. Mississippi lawmakers considered a similar proposal this year but put it off, the newspaper reported. Other managed herds are allowed in Tennessee, including elk.
Proponents say the farms allow owners to use marginal land for a profitable purpose and expand hunting opportunities.
The federation’s Butler, though, said hunting deer raised on a farm isn’t sporting.
“That’s not hunting,” Butler said. “It’s shooting.”
Shawn Schafer, executive director of the North American Deer Farmers Association, counters the argument about diseases.
“We know the health status of all these animals,” Schafer said. “Nobody is asking to haphazardly bring more animals in from anywhere.”
He also said the average age of a farm-raised deer is five to eight years when they are hunted, while wild deer taken by hunters average about a year and a half.
“The big thing about our industry is, we don’t harvest immature animals,” Shafer said.
State Rep. Frank Nicely, R-Knoxville and the bill’s sponsor, did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Monday morning.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has not taken a position on the bill, department spokesman Tom Womack said.
At the request of sponsors, the department has issued recommendations on how to test for and monitor disease in farmed deer.
Womack said if the protocols are adopted, they should ensure “reasonable protection of wildlife and livestock in Tennessee.”