The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that the Missouri Department of Conservation has the authority to regulate the captive deer industry in an effort to control the spread of a deadly deer disease.
The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously decided on July 3 that all deer are wildlife and therefore can be regulated by the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri Conservation Commission under the state constitution.
Article IV Section 40(a) of the Missouri Constitution grants the Conservation Commission, “control, management, restoration, conservation and regulation of the bird, fish, game, forestry and all wildlife resources of the state.”
The Supreme Court ruled this includes all deer, no matter if they are in the wild or behind a fence.
The dispute between the state agency and the captive deer industry began after the Missouri Department of Conservation passed regulations in 2014 that attempted to reduce the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state by limiting the importation of deer.
CWD is a deadly deer illness that is passed from deer-to-deer through direct contact and through contact with soil, food and water.
According to the conservation department, the disease was first discovered in the state at captive facilities in Linn and Macon Counties in 2010 and 2011. A total of 11 cases were confirmed in captive deer at the facilities.
The captive deer industry argued in court that the deer should be classified as livestock and regulated under the Department of Agriculture. In addition, they stated that the regulations put in place infringes on their right to farm and could financially harm their businesses.
In its decision, the court reversed a lower court ruling that favored the hunting preserves, saying there is no question that deer are wildlife.
In a statement, the Missouri Conservation Commission said it hopes to work with hunting preserves going forward.
“The commission will be working closely and in collaboration with hunting preserves and wildlife-breeding facilities to ensure regulation compliance and to minimize the risk associated with the movement and holding of captive deer,” the statement said. “The goal is to help protect Missouri’s deer herd, now and into the future, from the 100 percent fatal chronic wasting disease, which has advanced across the Missouri landscape since it was first found in 2010.”
The court’s ruling will mean the regulations that had been set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, will begin to be enforced.
In addition to barring white-tailed deer, mule deer and other hybrids from being imported into Missouri, breeders would face new record-keeping and permitting requirements under the new rules.