You Are About to Lose Your Property!
Robert D. Brown
North Carolina citizens have taken little notice of the impending loss of some of their own property. But our Legislature is taking something that belongs to you and giving it to someone else. It’s not your car, your house or your land – but just the same, it belongs to you – it’s your white-tailed deer.
When our forefathers came to America, they were determined to not live under the rule of a king - a king who ruled them as serfs and who owned their land, water and wildlife. The European Red Deer, similar to our elk, were known as “Beasts of the Crown,” and the king and his family could execute a peasant for “poaching” one to feed his family.
As a result, our country’s founders developed what later became known as The Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) establishing a trustee relationship of state and federal government to hold and manage wildlife, fish and waterways for the conservation of those resources and for the benefit of the public – all of us. The PTD is now known as the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, because it is somewhat unique in the world, though its roots can be traced back to Greek and Roman civil law. It was reaffirmed by the English Magna Carta in 1215 AD and defined by English common law in 1641.
In America the PTD evolved because of unlimited commercial hunting, which wiped out the passenger pigeon and nearly wiped out our buffalo, deer, beaver and waterfowl resources from the mid 1800’s to the early 1930’s. The PTD has been upheld in court, confirming that wild animals belong to everyone, and that we cannot personally own or sell them. The federal government regulates hunting and management of migratory species, like waterfowl, whereas that of bears, deer, and other mammals and birds is under the jurisdiction of the states.
In fact, North Carolina General Statute 113-131 states, “The marine and estuarine and wildlife resources of the State belong to the people of the State as a whole. The Department and the Wildlife Resources Commission are charged with stewardship of these resources.” NCGS 113-291 states that no person “take, possess, buy, sell, or transport any wildlife – whether dead or alive, in whole or in part…. except as specifically permitted in this subchapter …” Later provisions allowed the owning and selling of game birds, like quail and pheasants for hunting and for restaurants, as well as foxes for hunting preserves and coyotes for dog training. In 2003 the Legislature allowed permitting of private holding of white-tailed deer, since it was already going on unregulated.
At the time there were over 100 “deer farms” in North Carolina. Most of these were people who found an orphaned fawn or two and kept them in a pen in their back yard as pets. A few, however, were commercially raising deer and selling them for “canned hunts” in other states (Hunting deer behind deer-proof fences is not allowed in NC). Permits were issued, and a $ 250,000 buy-out program reduced the number of deer farms to the current 37.
Of the current 37 permitted deer farms, 24 have fewer than 10 deer, and only two have over 50 and are thus viable commercial operations. The Wildlife Society, the Boone & Crockett Club, the Quality Deer Management Association, the North Carolina Wildlife Federation and many other hunting and conservation organizations have position statements condemning both deer farming and canned hunting as unethical and inappropriate for the management of wildlife.
This past fall, the NC Legislature inserted language in the 2015 Budget Bill requiring the WRC to issue permits to expand existing deer farms and to permit new ones. This year, SB 513, the NC Farm Act of 2015, contains wording to transfer regulatory authority over deer farms from the WRC to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (ACS). Before that was discussed or voted on, the heads of both agencies held a press conference announcing the transfer, though one stated, “We didn’t ask for this.”
As a result, we as North Carolina citizens are losing our property – wildlife that legally belongs to all of us. Concerns over this transfer include that the ACS has no law enforcement officers – like the WRC game wardens. ACS inspectors have no experience with wildlife or how such wild and skittish animals should be handled humanely. Likewise, the ACS has no rules, regulations or guidelines as to how deer farms should be managed. Nor do they have funds for deer farm inspectors. A major concern is the future possibility of the importation of deer from other states to improve the genetic stock of deer farms. This is currently not allowed by the WRC, but the ACS allows importation of cattle, hogs and horses, so why not deer?
The why not is that deer carry a number of diseases, including Tb, Brucellosis, Hemorrhagic Disease, and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). In fact, every state that has transferred deer farm jurisdiction over to their agricultural department now has CWD in their wild herds. Even states with strict import regulations and enforcement cannot catch all of the smuggling of live deer across state boundaries – a crime that happens when big antlered, trophy deer sell for thousands of dollars on the hoof. CWD is the Ebola of the deer family. It is a prion disease, like Mad Cow Disease. There is no treatment or cure, no vaccination to prevent it, currently no test for live animals, and once it is here, it is in the soil forever. We now know plants can take it up from the soil. Admittedly, no hunter has died or gotten ill from eating CWD-tainted venison. But of course Mad Cow Disease transferred from cattle to humans in Europe with devastating results. Likewise, there has not been a case of CWD being transferred to domestic livestock, though the original outbreak of CWD occurred at deer research pens at Colorado State University in 1967 – pens that were right next to sheep infected with Scrapie – another prion disease.
It is understandable that the WRC and the ACS agreed to this transfer of authority, considering who is in charge of their annual budgets. The WRC even held three all-day meetings of an expert CWD Task Force and allowed public comments – which resulted in 1968 votes against and 8 for the expansion of deer farming. Our state has about 284,000 deer hunters who expend $ 230 million and generate $ 20 million in taxes annually. Our animal agricultural industry is valued at $ 9.2 billion. The deer farmers pay only $ 50/year for their permits, which is only a fraction of what it costs to inspect their farms and to test dead animals for CWD.
Our state has tens of thousands people who enjoy hunting, photographing and watching wildlife, many of whom consider farming of a wild animal to be unethical and immoral. Twenty-three states now have CWD in their wild deer herds. Some, like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are now rampant with CWD, and the state wildlife agencies spend millions on trying to control the disease with testing of dead animals and exterminating infected herds. It is a travesty that this beautiful, wild public resource is being converted to a domesticated, farmed animal, genetically manipulated and treated with drugs and hormones in order to grow large antlers and be sold to “hunters” who will pay thousands of dollars to shoot them from a blind not far from the deer’s feeding station. All of those in North Carolina who value wild things and wild places need to contact their Legislators and oppose this ecological tragedy. Let’s eliminate this section from SB 513. Lets keep North Carolina wild.
Dr. Robert D. Brown is the Vice Chair of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, former Dean of the College of Natural Resources at NC State, and former national President of The Wildlife Society.
109 Cape Cod Drive