Captive deer, Marine Patrol have advocates' attention

CorrespondentJune 25, 2014 

The N.C. Wildlife Federation’s N.C. Camouflage Coalition was developed to keep outdoors enthusiasts informed about crucial issues. So was Coastal Conservation Association North Carolina’s VoterVoice.

Each advocacy vehicle has been put into high gear in recent days, sharing thousands of emails to encourage members to take action before a conference committee of the state General Assembly works out differences in House and Senate budget bills.

Tucked into the short-session bills are items that would transfer control of the state’s three dozen captive deer farms and would avoid entering a federal-state joint enforcement agreement.

N.C. Camo alerted more than 5,200 followers to a House budget item that would transfer administration of farms raising captive deer from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

By Tuesday, those emails had encouraged about 225 messages from constituents to legislators, said Richard B. Hamilton, the Camo founder and a former wildlife commission director who helped establish the deer program in 2003.

“The important thing is they know what’s going on,” Hamilton said by phone Tuesday night. “About 75 percent of them read it.”

Hamilton said the fear is that the transfer would weaken oversight and open the door for chronic wasting disease, already in Virginia and West Virginia, to enter the state and devastate the wild deer herd.

N.C. Camo supports the Senate version, which simply calls for evaluating the situation and reporting to the next General Assembly.

“Wildlife and Agriculture have been working together for 11 years … and they’ve done a good job,” Hamilton said.

CCA NC’s VoterVoice emails to 3,000 recipients call for an end to Senate opposition to the state entering a joint enforcement agreement with the National Marine Fisheries Service. Such an agreement would permit N.C. Marine Patrol officers to also enforce federal regulations and would make the state eligible for about $500,000 a year in federal funding.

“The entire CCA membership was provided with an explanation of the JEA this week,” CCA NC Chairman Greg Hurt said by phone. “Many of our members have contacted their legislators.”

David Sneed, CCA NC’s executive director, said members had sent more than 400 emails to legislators. The measure has top-level support from the Marine Patrol and the Division of Marine Fisheries.

Opposition comes from the N.C. Fisheries Association, a trade association for commercial fishermen. President Jerry Schill said the organization worries federal money might be used to “seduce” the state and potentially reduce the cooperation between the state and stakeholders. Fishermen would prefer tickets from the Marine Patrol instead of from federal agents, he said.

“The problem is not with the state Marine Patrol in enforcing and issuing tickets for federal violations but with the process of adjudication,” Schill wrote in an email Wednesday. “The feds use an ALJ, or administrative law judge, who works for NOAA/NMFS. It is certainly not in best interests of our state’s fishermen to enter into a joint enforcement agreement.”

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