JACKSON — Missouri is the 15th state with confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wild cervid populations.
Wildlife officials there say tests found two white-tailed bucks killed by deer hunters in Macon County, Mo., in November tested positive for the deadly disease.
They were discovered by Missouri’s Department of Conservation after it began testing tissue samples collected from legally harvested wild deer in two counties in North Central Missouri.
They chose to do tests because over the past two years, CWD was found in animals at a deer breeding farm in each county.
Officials said the two wild deer that tested positive were both killed within two miles of the Macon County deer breeding farm where animals tested positive in 2011.
That is something Mississippi legislators need to know when they deliberate proposed legislation that would legalize deer breeding farms in Mississippi. And there’s more:
— Missouri brings the disease closer to our neighborhood. According to GPS calculations, Macon, Mo., is 354.6 miles from Southaven, 506.7 miles from Macon, Miss., and 528.9 miles from Jackson. If it can happen there, it can happen here.
— According to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, of the 15 states with documented CWD cases in its wild populations, eight have found CWD at legal deer breeding farms. In most of those instances, CWD first appeared in captive deer in pens near where it was later found in wild animals.
Crowded pens are a breeding ground, not only for genetically superior bucks, but also for the deadly disease, which is passed between animals by contact, either directly or by contact with deer droppings. As anyone who drives Mississippi roads knows, this state’s wild population is dense.
Deer breeding farms are big business. Using advanced genetic practices, some have been able to produce bucks with amazing antlers, most notably in Texas. The biggest of the big can bring between $5,000 and $10,000 per semen straw. At that price, a sure-enough monster buck can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more.
Like most businesses and income, it is taxable, and could provide revenue for a state, like Mississippi, starving for every penny it can generate. Legislation to allow breeding farms in Mississippi was introduced in 2011, and a bill authored by Sen. Tommy Gollott, R-Biloxi, made it out of the Senate but died in the House.
Gollott, no longer the chairman of the Senate Wildlife Committee, has introduced a bill this year, modeled closely on his 2011 bill.
The legislation would allow for importation of white-tailed deer, semen, ova and embryos into the state. Regulations would require that the herd of origin has participated in a chronic wasting disease monitoring program for at least five years and is certified free of chronic wasting disease. It must come from a state with no history of chronic wasting disease.
Supporters of the bill argued last year that those safeguards are enough to prevent CWD importation. Gollott went as far as to suggest that it was not a wildlife issue, but more of a business, or commerce issue.
Supporters of the bill, who have addressed the Mississippi Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks at a recent monthly meeting, are more organized this year.
And they better be, because opposition similar to that in 2011 has quickly rejoined the fight. The Mississippi Wildlife Federation began contacting members and other sportsmen on Thursday and the Quality Deer Management Association is fighting it on a larger scale. Mississippi is one of seven states where the QDMA is targeting breeding-related legislation.
“There are no benefits for deer hunters in the growth of the captive deer-breeding industry — only risks,” wrote Kip Adams, QDMA’s director of education and outreach and a certified wildlife biologist, on the organization’s website. “It is QDMA’s mission to protect the future of white-tailed deer and our hunting heritage, and we oppose anything that puts those at risk.”
If Gollott and others continue to push it as a revenue-creating issue, then they face one major obstacle. At last count, five years ago, federal surveys estimated that deer hunting is a $600 million industry. When the next scheduled — every five years — survey is published this year, it is likely to be higher.
Is a solid $600 million industry that doesn’t cost the state one single penny of general fund money, worth the risk of allowing deer breeding farms and the remotest possibility of CWD?
That’s what legislators have to decide.