Under the Dome

Deer farming bill advances

Four months after it was approved in the Senate, a bill transferring the regulation of deer farms to the state’s agriculture department began to move through the House on Tuesday.

The House Rules Committee approved a slightly rewritten Senate Bill 513, which is a wide-ranging farm bill that includes the captive deer provision. After a brief stop in the House Finance Committee on Wednesday, it is expected to go to the full House for a vote this week.

The legislation takes regulatory authority away from the state Wildlife Resources Commission, which had put the brakes on deer farming permits out of concerns that a devastating animal disease could appear in North Carolina, as it has in many other states, as close as Virginia. The state’s small deer farming industry has been pushing to expand, and sees the move to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as providing that route.

Backers of the move, including sponsor Sen. Brent Jackson, an Autryville Republican, and Agriculture Comissioner Steve Troxler, say the move makes sense because the captive deer are more like livestock than game. Agriculture also has disease-control protocols.

The bill would prohibit deer from being imported to North Carolina from any farm where chronic wasting disease has been confirmed or suspected until the U.S. Department of Agriculture develops a method for testing live deer. It would allow for fines of up to $5,000 for each deer that owners fail to meet the new provisions in the law.

The deer are raised for their antlers, hides, meat and sometimes for game in penned preserves in other states, although hunting preserves are prohibited in North Carolina, except on Cherokee land in the western mountains.

Scott Griffin, a hunter from Wilmington, spoke against the bill, saying the state’s white-tailed deer were a public trust that should not be redefined as livestock and sold for private gain. After the meeting, Wildlife Resources Commission Executive Director Gordon Myers said the bill was a compromise that, all in all, he was satisfied with it.

Another provision in the bill weakens the Wildlife Resource Commission’s law enforcement authority by requiring its officers have a reasonable suspicion that a violation has occurred before they can inspect hunters’ weapons and equipment. The provision stemmed from a controversial undercover investigation and subsequent search and seizures conducted by federal and state game officials.