Lawmakers Object As Florida Fish and Wildlife Prepares to Ban All Deer and Elk Imports
FlaglerLive | June 12, 2013
A number of state lawmakers, including the Senate president, are trying to head off a proposal to ban the importation of all deer to Florida.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is expected to vote Thursday on a measure that would impose a blanket prohibition on the importation of live deer and elk to reduce the chance that potentially fatal Chronic Wasting Disease could spread to existing deer populations in the state.
But lawmakers are joining some of Florida’s deer farmers in expressing concern that a growing industry will be harmed if the current rules against importing cervid animals are expanded beyond areas where the disease has been detected.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, in a June 6 letter to the commission, called the proposal “a bit premature and extreme” as the rule could “potentially cut jobs, monopolize an industry, and limit options for the roughly 100 registered hunting preserves already in operation.”
Gaetz has been joined in opposition by Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, and Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton, Beach, Frank Artiles, R-Miami, Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, Dana Young, R-Tampa, and Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford.
Tony Young, a spokesman for the commission’s Hunting and Game Management Division, said that while the disease has not been detected in Florida, agency officials have considered it just a matter of time.
“The reason that the rule got proposed is just to further be as vigilant as we can be from preventing Chronic Wasting Disease from entering Florida’s deer herd,” Young said.
The state already prohibits deer from being imported to Florida from 18 states and two western Canadian provinces where infected populations have been found.
The ban also prohibits deer killed in those states and provinces from being brought into the Sunshine State unless they first has been deboned or treated and mounted by taxidermists located outside Florida.
Mark Owens, owner of Whitetail Country Plantation in Live Oak, said the push to close the border is driven by a small number of hunting preserve owners in the state who want to increase prices by further limiting the deer stock now in Florida.
“They want to cut supply and create a false demand,” said Owens.
The problem, Owens said, is that if the costs to participate in hunts increase, hunters will travel to other states.
“If the hunting industry in Florida were to close the importation, you’re going to see a breeder who sells his buck for $5,000 will say I now want $10,000 for it,” Owens said. “If the preserve guy can’t sell that hunt for $15,000, he can’t make a profit, and if he can’t make a profit he’s not in business.”
Owens added that while Florida has done a good job managing the disease, farmers are overly cautious about where they purchase their stock.
The disease has been spreading since first detected in free-ranging populations in the mid-1980s around northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. Tony Young described the effects as similar to Mad Cow disease, with animals becoming emaciated and often being found isolated and trembling.
Clifford Shipley, a Chronic Wasting Disease expert from the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine, said the current monitoring and testing are more than adequate, as the “very last thing any deer farmer wants is to import CWD as this is a death sentence currently for that farm.”
If an animal is found with the disease, the entire population, free-ranging or farmed, would need to be eradicated in order to prevent further spreading, Tony Young said.
“It’s just like with the eradication of citrus canker,” he said. “All of a sudden if just one orange tree with citrus canker is found and you’re five miles away — and even if your orange tree is doing great — they kill it all.”
Grimsley expressed in a letter on June 6 concern that closing the border would result in illegal smuggling. Brodeur called the proposal a “ploy by the largest breeders in the state.”
“My chief concern is that a move to completely eliminate the importing of deer to Florida will push smaller farmers out of business, and drastically harm our rural economy,” Brodeur wrote on June 4.
“These new regulations will close the door on many smaller farmers, who will have no choice but to close shop if they are unable to afford the artificially-inflated prices that are created,” Brodeur said.
President Gaetz wrote that the state should wait on expanding the ban “until the commission is presented with credible, scientific evidence of the imminent threat provided through current cervid importation practices.”
Dana Young noted June 4 that there was no need to do more at this time as “this activity is already heavily regulated.”
–Jim Turner, News Service of Florida