The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reported this week that the owner of captive whitetail deer operations in Ohio and Florida pleaded guilty to charges of illegal transportation and sale of game animals in violation of the federal Lacey Act.
Donald W. Wainwright Sr., 49, of Live Oak, Florida, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to 12 charges related to violating the Lacey Act, one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. He awaits sentencing later this month.
According to a press release issued this week by FWS, Wainwright, Sr., was the part owner and operator of Valley View Whitetails of Florida and Valley View Whitetails of Ohio. Both facilities were fenced deer preserves that catered to high-dollar clients from around the country. According to court documents, Wainwright, Sr., illegally shipped deer to Florida from Ohio and attempted to ship deer to Georgia from Ohio. The deer herds involved with these shipments were not certified to be free from chronic wasting disease (CWD), tuberculosis and brucellosis.
CWD is widely considered by state game agencies and biologists as the chief threat to deer and elk populations in North America. The disease, which ultimately ends in the death of infected animals, is a transmissible neurological disease that produces small lesions in the brain of deer and elk and is characterized by loss of body condition and behavioral abnormalities.
Federal law requires interstate shipments of deer to be certified to be disease free. In this case, deer herds in Florida were potentially exposed to CWD and other diseases. Wainwright, Sr.’s attempted shipment to Georgia was intercepted on I-71 South, about 50 miles from the Ohio River, when Ohio Wildlife officers noticed deer noses and antlers inside a cargo trailer and pulled over a truck driven by Wainwright, Sr.’s employees.
“Trafficking like this is detrimental to the health of native wildlife here in the U.S. and around the world,” said Deputy Assistant Director of FWS Law Enforcement, Edward Grace. “We are pleased with the outcome of this case and thank our law enforcement partners for a solid investigation.”
Under the Lacey Act, it is unlawful to import, export, sell or purchase wildlife or transported, or sold: 1) in violation of U.S. law or: 2) in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken possessed or sold in violation of State law.
When it was passed in 1900, the Lacey Act became the first federal law protecting wildlife.
In addition to FWS, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Georgia Department of Natural Resources contributed to the investigation.
The proliferation of high-fence operations and the clandestine movement of deer without permits or documentation is a growing concern for wildlife law enforcement departments, deer biologists and sportsmen’s groups. What is your opinion on the issue?