This year, the nation’s two most prominent big game record-keeping and conservation organizations, The Boone and Crockett Club and Pope and Young Club, each issued public statements regarding the proliferation of captive deer and elk breeding operations in the United States. It marks the first time the two have publicly addressed the increasingly controversial issue of the private breeding, sale and transportation of captive deer, and the threat it may have to the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), in addition to the potential negative impacts on free-ranging whitetail populations.
Generally speaking, the captive deer industry in the U.S. is engaged in the breeding and exchange of genetic material used in the raising of animals to be sold or utilized at private, enclosed “hunting” preserves, unlike in Europe, where deer are sometimes raised and venison is sold commercially.
While the leadership of both organizations determined their official deer-farm policies in 2013, each issued press releases addressing the subject following the March 3-6, 2014 Whitetail Summit hosted by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) at Bass Pro Shops’ Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Mo. The four-day event was attended by more than 200 representatives from 19 companies in the hunting industry, 18 state wildlife agencies and one provincial agency, 10 leading institutes of deer research, 17 major landowner groups including the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 15 hunting or conservation organizations, and, most importantly, deer hunters from more than 20 different states and one Canadian province.
Among the subjects discussed at length in Branson was the captive deer industry.
Two years ago QDMA first began raising questions about captive deer farming and publicly opposed its expansion and well as its oversight by state agricultural departments rather than game agencies. In a Feb. 22, 2012 statement, the QDMA urged hunters to oppose any expansion of the captive deer-breeding industry, specifically in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, N. Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia, where legislation to loosen industry controls was being considered.
“There are no benefits for deer hunters in the growth of the captive deer-breeding industry–only risks,” Kip Adams, QDMA’s director of education & outreach said in the announcement. The QDMA’s action marked the first time a major hunter-oriented, national conservation organization took a public stand on the controversial issue of deer farming in the U.S.
For the most part, the Boone and Crockett and Pope and Young positions generally echo QDMA.
B&C states it officially supports state bans on commercial import and export of deer or elk and opposes efforts to relax regulation of captive cervid breeding operations or to remove management authority over such operations from state wildlife agencies.
In reference to the proceedings of the QDMA Whitetail Summit, Richard Hale, chairman of the B&C Records Committee had this to say:
“Of all the presentations, seminars and findings, I was most pleased to see the attention given to the connections between chronic wasting disease (CWD) and the game farming industry. This has been on our radar and on the radar of QDMA, other conservation groups, state agencies, and sportsmen for quite some time.”
In its statement released April 7, the Pope and Young Club specifically addressed ethics and hunting inside game-proof fenced enclosures.
“The Club and its membership steadfastly support and promote the North American Wildlife Conservation Model,” read the P&Y statement. “Animals held, or bred and raised for the purpose of trophy harvest, in these facilities are not considered wildlife. The killing of these animals is not managed by the authority of a wildlife management agency and the killing, itself, is devoid of any values embodied by legitimate hunting.”
Neither Pope and Young nor Boone and Crockett accept trophy animals raised on game farms and killed within enclosures in their record books.
A multi-part investigative series titled “Buck Fever” appearing last month in the Indianapolis Star estimated that nearly 10,000 deer farms and hunting preserves exist in the U.S. and Canada, resulting in “a billion-dollar industry primarily devoted to breeding deer that are trucked to fenced hunting preserves to be shot by patrons willing to pay thousands for the trophies.”
What are your thoughts on the U.S. captive deer breeding industry? Do you think it’s ethical to pay for the opportunity to take trophy, genetically enhanced deer behind high-fenced enclosures? Is it hunting?
(Photo courtesy of Robert Scheer/Indianapolis Star)