Another legislative fight appears looming over who regulates farm-raised deer in West Virginia. Members of the West Virginia Deer Farmers Association are making another pitch to state lawmakers to move the responsibility for oversight on their industry from the West Virginia DNR to the state Department of Agriculture.
"There's a big difference between taking care of wildlife in their natural habitat and raising livestock on a farm," said Barbour County deer farmer Jack Rose to members of a joint legislative interim committee.
Rose believes the Department of Agriculture's oversight would give his industry more latitude to raise and sell products related to commercially raised whitetail deer.
"The Department of Ag is the most qualified when it comes to farming any animal behind a fence," said Rose. "Whereas the DNR is more qualified to regulate wildlife in a free-range environment."
The joint committee received a study from the WVU Extension Service who surveyed 22 deer farmers in West Virginia.
"Deer farming may provide an opportunity for farmers to diversify their operations and generate greater profits on smaller parcels of land than those afforded by traditional farming practices," said Daniel Eades from WVU.
The West Virginia DNR is opposed to removing deer farms from their area of responsibility.
"They believe whitetail deer raised in a fence are livestock. We contend that whitetail deer are whitetail deer," said DNR Director Frank Jezioro. "I guess if you have a Black Angus cow out on the free range running free--he's a Black Angus cow. But if you fence him up--he's still a Black Angus cow, the species doesn't change. We feel the whitetail deer is the same way."
Jezioro says the biggest fear is the potential spread of chronic wasting disease. CWD is already present in the wild deer herd in Hampshire and Hardy County and is spreading. Jezioro acknowledged there's been no known CWD contamination in a West Virginia deer farm, however, nationally biologists agree the disease seems to spread more rapidly among captive cervid herds in other parts of the United States.
"The domestic animals the Department of Agriculture deals with, most of those can be vaccinated," Jezioro said. "Deer cannot be vaccinated for CWD. There is no live test for it."
Four years ago a similar fight led to a working agreement and the present rules governing deer farms in the state. The agreement was brokered and shepherded through the process by Senator Karen Facemyer of Jackson County who championed the matter.
Jezioro says he doesn't support an outright ban deer farming in West Virginia. He says there is a movement toward such the drastic action which has happened in neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland. But, he adds the rules created four-years ago are working and shouldn't be a moving target."We think we have a good working relationship with the Department of Agriculture and the deer farmers and we stand ready to continue working with the deer farmers," said Jezioro. "But we don't see changing the rules or the laws every year or every time a farmer gets into the business."