CHARLESTON — Authority to check private deer farms for chronic wasting disease and other disorders needs to be maintained, Natural Resources Director Frank Jezioro told a legislative panel Monday.

“We don’t know what’s in the deer farms,” he testified before the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

“That’s why we have to have that ability to go in and check the deer. That’s what we want to do. That’s what we have to do.”

Under emergency rules, the DNR was given a 16-month window to examine captive deer, but without legislative renewal in the next session, that authority runs out. A DNR spokesman said the agency has begun the process of taking inventories at deer farms.

As precautions began to multiply in the aftermath of a road-kill deer testing positive for the neurological disorder in Hampshire County, some attention has focused on deer farms.

Jezioro said he wants to conduct an inventory at asll private deer farms to see if any animals have fallen ill, for whatever reason, and if any have been disposed of.

“That needs to be done,” he said.

Afterward, a farmer-lawmaker, Delegate Bill Proudfoot, D-Randolph, said deer farmers are just as concerned, given the huge investments into their operations and the reluctance of any farmer to leave anything to chance.

“It’s a tremendous investment on their part,” Proudfoot said.

“And that’s an individual investment. It’s not taxpayers’ investment. It’s theirs.”

Proudfoot emphasized he wasn’t rising to the defense of deer farms, but called for a cautious look at their operations in light of the CWD scare.

“In all reality, I don’t see where we need to get excited and run off in a tangent,” he said.

“What the DNR is doing is fantastic. I think they’re taking a sensible approach, looking at the zone where the deer was found in.”

While the DNR has voiced concern at times over captive deer, Proudfoot suggested this is a two-way street.

“Deer farmers are very concerned about the wild deer that may infect their herds,” he said.

Since the initial road-kill deer was discovered a year ago, three other free-running animals have tested positively.

“There’s nothing that says we haven’t had that disease in this state earlier,” Proudfoot said.

“It just never was detected. The DNR is right on top of it and will take care of it.”

Proudfoot agreed with Jezioro’s appeal for hunters pouring into the woods next week to launch the firearms season need to use precautions, such as taking only the meat home and properly disposing of the carcasses.

Fifty-four private operations are licensed, but DNR officials said only about half a dozen are considered major enterprise, with the vast majority falling into the petting zoo category.

Jezioro pledged the DNR would maintain a relentless push to keep tabs on a possible deer infected, even examining deer turned in at checking stations over the two-week bucks season.

“It’s going to be a monumental task,” the DNR director said.

Jezioro said the deer season alone translates into a $250 million industry in West Virginia.

“This is why we have to keep this thing under the microscope,” he said.

Jezioro said it took nearly a year to confirm the first documented case of CWD because the state’s sample was put on a shelf, awaiting its turn while other states had priority. At another lab, he said, the state is getting speedier results.

Assistant Wildlife Chief Paul Johansen said the tell-tale signs of the final stages of CWD are deer that appear emaciated, undernourished and stare blankly into space.

“We want to get our hands on that animal,” he said.

“But just because an animal is skinny, doesn’t mean it has CWD.”

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