Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed two bills on Tuesday that would have redefined captive deer, also referred to by some as farmed deer, as livestock. Senate Bill 506 and House Bill 1326 would have transferred the oversight of captive whitetails from the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) to the Department of Agriculture, a move supported by many deer breeders and owners of high-fence hunting preserves.
“For more than 75 years, our Department of Conservation has been held up as a model for wildlife management agencies across the country because of its incredible success,” Governor Nixon said in a press release. “Redefining deer as livestock to remove the regulatory role of Department defies both its clear record of achievement as well as common sense. White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals—no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area.”
Nixon further praised the efforts of the MDC, which he credited for increasing the state’s dwindling deer population from 2,000 in the early 1930s to more than 1.3 million today. Hunting whitetail in Missouri has become a billion-dollar industry and draws more than 500,000 sportsmen and women to the field every year.
The issue of captive deer is a hotly debated one in Missouri, just as it is in many other states. Critics of deer farms blame the facilities for spreading illnesses such as chronic wasting disease, which can spread to wild deer populations as well. Deer breeders, however, say that the MDC is bent on shutting down the industry despite strict regulations and well-maintained facilities.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that they (the Department of Conservation) are trying to put us out of business,” Sam Jones, the president of the Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association, told the Kansas City Star. “They’re trying to regulate us out of the picture.”
Jones said that the majority of captive deer facilities in Missouri are disease-free and regularly tested, but the emergence of chronic wasting disease in just one farm gives the entire industry a bad name.
To Governor Nixon, the debate behind the issue did not change the fact that whitetail deer are considered wildlife and a game animal.
“Putting them behind a fence does not change that fact,” Nixon said. “The Constitution makes clear that the Conservation Commission has the sole authority to control, manage, restore, conserve, and regulate ‘game…and all wildlife.'”
Jones said it is now up to the General Assembly to decide whether they will override the governor’s veto.