By Jacob Rund
State lawmakers heard nearly five hours of testimony from more than 25 individuals Tuesday as part of a study to determine how Indiana should regulate deer farming and whether to legalize fenced hunting.
The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources – comprised of members from both chambers of the state legislature – heard from veterinarians, deer farmers, and wildlife officials about fenced hunting and the possible diseases the industry may or may not be spreading to the nation’s wild deer population.
The day’s discussion centered primarily on Chronic Wasting Disease – a neurological disorder that damages neurons, forming holes in the brain tissue of deer and eventually leading to death – and its current impact on both the wild and contained deer population in North America.
CWD can only be confirmed post-mortem, as there are no current tests available to sample brain tissue from a live deer. The disease is suspected to be transferred through a deer’s saliva, urine and excrement and can survive for long periods of time in soil particles.
Indiana has not had a confirmed case of CWD, but has had deer transferred to farms from out of state where confirmed cases had been recorded. Several states in the Midwest, including Wisconsin and Missouri, have had deer test positive for CWD.
Bryan Richards, a disease investigator for the U.S. Geological Survey, spoke about the history and prevalence of the disease and the steps the state should take to protect from it.
“The best bet is doing everything you can to keep it out,” Richards said. “The disease is moving across the landscape, no question, (but) through preventative measures, you can have an impact on time of arrival.”
Lawmakers have been battling over fenced deer hunting issues for years. State officials told several hunting preserve owners in 2002 that the operations would be legal but later the Department of Natural Resources change its mind and ordered them closed. The owners sued and a judge ruled they could remain open.
Since then, legislators have considered bills that would ban fenced hunting but also bills to legalize and regulate the operations. Among the issues is ethical questions about hunting captive animals as well as concerns about disease.
Three members of the Board of Animal Health spoke about the state’s current rules governing the farming, transfer and hunting of deer.
Currently, Indiana has several requirements for the testing of CWD and for the intrastate transfer of captive-raised deer. All contained deer older than one year of age that die for any reason are required by the state to be tested for tuberculosis and CWD.
During the meeting, members of several wildlife organizations each stated that preventing the movement of captive-raised deer to and from other states should be Indiana’s biggest concern.
“You guys (Indiana) are very fortunate to not have the disease, there is no question about that,” Kip Adams, a wildlife biologist with the Quality Deer Management Association, said. “You need to make sure they (deer farmers) can’t move the deer. The movement is the big problem.”
The committee also heard testimony from Darryl Ragland, a veterinarian and member of Purdue University’s Department of Clinical Sciences, who said Indiana is already doing a sufficient job of regulating its captive herds and the transfer of deer into the state.
“We probably have one of the most robust regulatory structures in the country, in terms of keeping CWD out,” Ragland said.
Ragland also said that any state with deer that have tested positive for CWD must report the findings and are not permitted to ship deer into Indiana for a period of five years.
Toward the end of Thursday’s meeting, discussion turned to the ethical side of fenced hunting preserves and deer farms, when three Hoosier deer farmers and an Indiana University philosophy professor spoke on the matter.
The committee did not reach a conclusion on the subject Tuesday, but members plan to consider the information at a later meeting and could make a recommendation for legislation for the 2015 session.
Jacob Rund is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.