Missouri’s fight over the status of captive deer may have finally come to an end this week after Senate Bill 506 was killed in the state House on Thursday. The bill, which would have designated captive deer as livestock and transfered oversight of the animals from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture, was vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon back in July. Just hours after the Senate voted to override the veto, the House decided 108-52 to let Nixon’s decision stand. The bill’s failure comes as a huge blow to its supporters, as well as state deer farmers and the owners of high-fence hunting facilities. Some conservation groups, however, are claiming victory.
“This is a huge, historic win for the conservation community of Missouri,” Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, told The Kansas City Star. “This fight was about so much more than deer. Hopefully, it will wake up the masses of Missouri citizen conservationists and they will begin engaging in efforts to protect our natural resources that come under attack way too often.”
The issue of captive deer is a contentious one in Missouri, as it is in many other states that allow commercial deer breeding. Critics of deer farms, which include many wildlife biologists and conservation groups, say that captive deer can spread disease to wild deer populations. Others question the ethics of hunting game within a confined space, or breeding deer for the purpose of bigger antlers. Deer farmers defend their livelihood by saying that most facilities are well-run and disease free, while the mistakes of a few give the entire industry a black eye.
Sam Jones, president of the Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association, claims that the Department of Conservation is trying to put deer farmers out of business through over-regulation.
“We don’t feel this is over,” he said after the House vote. “We’re looking into taking this to the courts.”
If the bill had been passed, the Department of Conservation would have no longer had the authority to regulate captive deer facilities. Instead, that responsibility would instead go to the state Department of Agriculture, which spoke out against the bill as well. Governor Nixon also previously criticized redefining deer as livestock, saying that “white-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals—no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area.”
In the end, House members sided with the governor’s veto.
“The Department of Conservation and the Department of Agriculture both testified against this bill,” Representative T.J McKenna (D-Festus) told missourinet.com. “I don’t know why we as a legislature continue to do what the people that take care of things tell us is not the right thing to do.”
Another provision of the bill was a subsidy for dairy farmers, which would have helped pay for new federal insurance plans.