Rep. Frank Niceley has abandoned – for this year — his two-pronged effort to legalize whitetail deer farming in Tennessee, blaming “misinformation” and “outright lies” about the proposal for creating a hostile environment in the Legislature.
The Strawberry Plains Republican took HB94 “off notice” in the House Agriculture Subcommittee Tuesday. That was a bill on an unrelated topic that Niceley took over from another legislator previously to get the deer farming proposal before the committee that he chairs.
He dropped the same idea as proposed earlier in a separate bill, HB1112, last week in the House Conservation and Environment Subcommittee. In that case, Niceley’s move to amend the bill officially to incorporate the deer farming language failed on a 3-3 tie vote.
Niceley proposed afterwards to have the bill passed out of subcommittee, then held in full committee until next year with a “summer study” on the matter.
“The emotions are so high and there’ve been so many untruths put out there …. Let’s let this thing some time for emotions to calm down and to get some information out (with a summer study),” he said.
But some subcommittee members didn’t even want to have the matter studied further.
Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, said he had received “300 emails and over 50 phone calls from people in my district who oppose this” and he doesn’t expect that sentiment to change.
“My deer hunters don’t want this,” Shaw said. “The risk is just too high.”
In yielding and simply taking the bill off notice, Niceley denounced criticism from the officials of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and – in particular – the Tennessee Wildlife Federation.
In the latter case, Niceley said the federation’s executive director, Mike Butler, had sent out an email containing the “bald-faced lie” that his bill included no testing of farmed deer for chronic wasting disease. The bill actually calls for more testing than conducted in any other state that has deer farms, Niceley said.
Butler acknowledged that the email in question was “poorly worded,” but was making the truthful point that the only testing would occur after an animal died, when it could have already infected other deer.
Here’s a followup email Butler sent to members of the sub:
Dear Subcommittee Members,
I offer an apology in advance for needing to send this e-mail in the first place, but given the statements made today in House conservation and environment subcommittee, we feel it is unfortunately necessary.
Today in the House conservation and environment subcommittee, Chairman Frank Niceley stated that a quote from one of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s action alerts was a “bold faced lie”. Since Chairman Niceley appeared unwilling to recognize TWF and allow us to address his claim, we would like to take this opportunity to do so now.
First, the e-mail alert Chairman Niceley referred to was in fact sent last Friday, April 8, to a number of our TWF friends, supporters and affiliates. The offending language pointed out in subcommittee today was as follows (directly excerpted from the alert) and is highlighted:
“This bill would:
· Bring an industry to Tennessee which has been implicated in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease and bovine tuberculosis in several states.
· Expose Tennessee to the costs other states’ taxpayers and sportsmen are having to pay for managing these diseases (MI-$150mil., WI-$45mil., MN-nearly $80mil.) at a time when states are broke.
· Threaten our wild and native white-tailed deer with a disease (CWD) that has been shown to kill 1 out of every 4 deer in the wild in other states, and has no live test, is 100% fatal, has no known maximum incubation period, and cannot be eradicated once in the wild herd.
· Threaten the $500-700 million annual economic engine that is Tennessee’s wild deer herd and wild deer hunting.
· Give the State Veterinarian in the Department of Agriculture the authority to depopulate wild white-tailed deer in order to protect farmed white-tailed deer without any notice, public process or consultation with TWRA.
· Make Tennessee a potential dumping ground for CWD infected deer by not requiring any CWD testing.”
While it may not be well written, the statement is factually accurate. White-tailed deer imported from another states into Tennessee would ostensibly have been monitored per the bill, but they would not have been tested for CWD – no live test exists for CWD, and we do not believe that deer farmers will be importing dead deer that would have been tested. All that we could really ever know for certain is that a farmed white-tailed deer came from a facility that had no instance of CWD within the last five years, but NOT that those farmed deer were free from CWD.
Add to this fact that the five-year CWD herd quarantine requirement appears to be insufficient (per Rick Gerhold, DVM, UTK, supported by evidence from Elizabeth S. Williams, Michael W. Miller and E. Tom Thorne), then this bill will allow for the importation of potentially infected white-tailed deer which have not yet begun to show symptoms of the disease.
Lastly, I would like to point out that with the several amendments offered in the House conservation and environment subcommittee (none of which are available online), Chairman Niceley more recently offered an amendment that requires testing of captive cervids in Tennessee which die in captivity. However, testing dead deer after they have been imported into the state is like “trying to get the horse back into the barn,” and we have all recently seen what happens to a deer farm with soil infected by CWD when officials in Wisconsin purchased an empty deer farm to protect their wild deer.
Our analysis shows that Chairman Niceley’s amendment addressing CWD has apparently simply codified the existing rules within the Dept. of Ag. that currently regulate captive cervid farming, and are thought by many to be insufficient.
Thank you for your time and indulgence in reading this message.
Michael Butler, CEO
Tennessee Wildlife Federation