The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Editorials

March 7, 2014

Deer farms

The bill to enable a broad expansion of deer farming in West Virginia continues to work its way through the legislative process in Charleston.

So far, support for an initiative which the Department of Agriculture says could be worth tens of millions of dollars in new revenue is strong.

State Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, is one of those supporters.

He told The Register-Herald this week that he is against allowing the Ag Department and the Division of Natural Resources to have joint oversight of deer farming.

“I have no faith in the DNR’s willingness or ability to promote this program,” Hall said. He added that it was his feeling that the DNR, and specifically its director, Frank Jezioro, have for years blocked attempts to expand deer farms in the state.

The expansion of deer farming would bring investment and jobs to southern West Virginia, Hall and other backers say.

They feel the DNR has resisted the idea because it would mean losing a portion of its authority over wildlife management to the Agriculture Department. The DNR has voiced concerns about bringing in cervids, or hoofed deer-like animals, from out of state.

We think a joint regulatory role for both agencies would best serve the taxpayers of West Virginia — if the measure passes.

We understand the DNR’s position on regulating the wild deer herd in the state. It is based in large part on the threat of chronic wasting disease, a fatal malady that affects white-tailed deer and already is found in West Virginia’s Hampshire and Hardy counties. It is present in 22 states, and appears to have originated in hoofed animals in the western United States.

Both Hall and the DNR are correct.

Southern West Virginia sorely needs new and diverse economic investment, and the jobs that will bring.

But there are concerns about the threat of chronic wasting disease to the wild deer herd in the state. Deer hunting, according to some opponents of deer farm expansion, is already a $250 million a year industry.

Why risk losing that?

Bringing in out-of-state white-tailed deer, axis deer, red deer, fallow deer, moose, elk, caribou and reindeer all put our local, wild deer population at risk from chronic wasting disease.

An animal can look perfectly healthy but still carry the disease. There are no tests to confirm an animal is infected with chronic wasting disease, unless the animal is euthanized and its brain examined.

West Virginia is rich in its heritage, in its people, and in what it offers to sportsmen and sportswomen, from bird watchers to deer hunters.

We don’t want West Virginia deer hunting and all that goes with it to be sacrificed for the sake of industrial deer farms. Yet we also see the need for diversifying our economy in southern West Virginia.

Lawmakers, as they weigh this dilemma, need to consider deer hunters as well as deer farmers.

We ask whether this form of economic development is worth the risk to our wild deer herd.

West Virginia will only get one chance at this.

 Because if chronic wasting disease is brought in and spreads widely across the state, one of the great pleasures of our lives, enjoyed by husband and wife, father and son and mother and daughter, will be threatened if not lost.

If that happens, how many millions of dollars will it take to make up for losing the joy of hunting the white-tailed deer?

Your call, ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature.

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