Missouri Supreme Court rules all deer are wildlife

By Brandon Butler

It took five years and millions of dollars to settle an argument that should have never happened.  But the buck finally stopped at the Missouri Supreme Court, who on July 3 unanimously ruled that all deer are wildlife.

How did we get to a point where such an argument had to be made? The “Captive Cervid Industry” has found ways to pervert our American heritage of hunting by confining wild animals and genetically altering them to grow unnaturally large antlers in fenced-enclosures where a paying customer can pick out the one they want and shoot it. In the background section of the Missouri Supreme Court ruling, they explain the industry “generally engages in two types of commercial activities: the selective breeding of cervids for large antlers and other desirable genetic traits, and the operation of private hunting preserves at which hunters pay to hunt and take trophy bucks.” 

In Indiana and many other states across the country, the captive cervid industry has launched aggressive campaigns against being regulated by state wildlife agencies. They have been successful in other states, using political favor under the guise of private property rights to ultimately eliminate wildlife regulations.

After having failed to accomplish the goal of switching control from wildlife to agriculture at the legislative level, in order to continue their fight against regulations put in place by the Department of Conservation for the purpose of slowing Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and protecting the state’s herd of approximately 1.3 million wild whitetails that a University of Missouri report indicates represent a $1.1 billion-dollar annual contribution to Misosuri’s economy, the industry turned to the judicial system. Their biggest complaint being against an importation ban which is similar to what nearly half the states in our country already have in place. They initially won their case in circuit court, only to have the judgement reversed and settled by the supreme court with a unanimous verdict that included the language, “cervids are members of species that are wild by nature and, therefore, are wildlife.”

The industry argued their privatized cervids are, “not game or wildlife resources of the state.”

The supreme court did not agree, stating, “The Court rejects these readings. The terms “game” and “wildlife” are plain and unambiguous as used in article IV, section 40(a), which is concerned with the preservation and conservation of the state’s forestry and wildlife resources. In this context, the term “wildlife” plainly includes all species that are wild by nature.”

There are two main problems with captive deer. The first issue is simply one of ethics and ideals. With whitetail deer populations at or above target goals in most of the country, why does someone want to shoot a penned deer?

Steven Rinella, who is a leading voice among sportsmen-conservationists, explained to me the captive cervid view of noted conservationist Jim Pozewitz. According to Rinella, Pozewitz’s theory is when you hunt penned up deer and sell that experience, what you’re selling is the idea of the wild one. Deer have come to represent wildness. They have come to represent a cultural and economic commitment we’ve had to their well-being. They have come to represent challenge. They have come to represent struggle. And so when you hang a penned deer on your wall, you’re hanging up a representation of all these ideals. That’s what they’re selling to individuals that just want the representation and to harness the meaning and show it to other individuals. They want others to think they value those things, when they know secretly that they don’t really value it enough to try and achieve it in a legitimate way. They’re just going to buy it.   

With CWD now becoming a front-and-center issue across the country, we are starting to see political action arise to curb it’s spread. At the Federal level, Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind filed House Resolution 4454 – Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act. It currently has 8 co-sponsors. Yet, there are still the conspiracy theorists out there claiming CWD is no big deal or even that it’s not real. 

Dr. Grant Woods, who is a leading deer biologist in the country, said, “It is not debatable. CWD is a disease. No deer has been known to survive it.”

To date, CWD has not been found in Indiana but it’s in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, so sadly, it’s likely just a matter of time. Once it is discovered, rules and regulation will change and you’ll be left to wonder why we ever allowed wildlife to be unnaturally moved around the country to begin with.

See you down the trail…

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