Bill to Move West Virginia Cervid Farming to Agriculture Passes House Unanimously

March 1, 2014

By Pamela Pritt
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Several bills, some that got some attention, and others that didn’t, passed the House of Delegates on Wednesday, the last day for legislation to pass out of its house of origin.

Perhaps the bill that got the most attention throughout the session has been the Captive Cervid Farming Act. If passed by the State Senate, the law would allow deer farming, which is legal in neighboring states.

Under West Virginia’s law, deer farmers would have to be licensed, file a bio-security report that includes a description of the fencing and how native white-tail deer, which are not allowed, will be flushed from the fenced-in area.

The farms would be subject to inspection by the Department of Agriculture, instead of the Division of Natural Resources, which regulates wildlife, including the wild deer herd in West Virginia.

Farmers may raise fallow deer, red deer, axis deer, moose, reindeer and caribou, none of them native to West Virginia.

Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Helmick has said he’s backing the legislation and that it could boost the state’s lagging economy.

Breeding stock would come from existing stock farms in the state, or could be brought in from another state, all with mandatory documentation and veterinary inspections.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, captive cervids would be handled as livestock, because that’s what they would be.

The DNR currently oversees about 26 cervid farms scattered across the state.

Critics of the plan say the problem is bringing in hoofed animals from out of state. They fear the imported animals could be infected with chronic wasting disease, or CWD. The disease is fatal to white-tail deer, and, these critics warn, could be brought into areas of the state and infect native deer populations. At present, CWD is only found in Hampshire and Hardy counties in West Virginia, according to the DNR.

In addition, testing for CWD requires the animal first be euthanized, so they say even vets could not be sure the animals are disease-free.

DNR director Frank Jezioro said Thursday evening that he is concerned about chronic wasting disease among members of the cervid family.

“Any of the cervid family, moose, elk or deer can carry chronic wasting disease and when you start moving animals around the country, you have that concern,” Jezioro said.

But Jezioro said he is eager to see the final version of the bill.

“If it proceeds like the House bill has, we can support it and work with the Department of Agriculture,” he said.


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