State should buy deer, elk farms

December 28, 2003 Wisconsin State Journal by Tim Ryan

The Department of Natural Resources must be reinstated as the regulator of deer and elk farms in Wisconsin.

Chronic wasting disease has been found in Wisconsin's captive deer farms, and in a deer that escaped from a Walworth County game farm, potentially spreading the disease for six months.

The state must respond more aggressively to this expanding crisis, but the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection does not have the expertise or personnel to adequately inspect and regulate the game farm industry. In addition, I believe a conflict of interest exists because DATCP tends to be an agricultural promoter. In one interview, the leader of DATCP said chronic wasting disease was not in any of the state's deer and elk farms, and he has since been proven very wrong. Is this the type of forward-thinking agency that Wisconsin residents would want to take the lead in regulating the deer and elk farm industry?

The deer and elk farm industry has enjoyed very favorable treatment over the years from state legislators with help from lobbyists. The deer and elk farm industry has strong political connections, and the industry has grown rapidly to more than 800 farms statewide.

Remember, many deer on these farms were bought from you and me -- citizens of Wisconsin -- for $25 each after a fence was constructed around them. And many deer are sold to clients all over the country, sometimes for thousands of dollars each.

As lucrative as deer and elk farming has become in Wisconsin, it does not come close to the amount of money generated by deer hunting in Wisconsin, which is estimated to generate over a billion dollars annually. And consider how land values have increased as hunters buy deer hunting property to pursue their passion.

And consider the thousands of hours of enjoyment for more than a million Wisconsin residents who hunt deer and watch wildlife. I consider this priceless. I believe the deer hunting community in Wisconsin must get more involved in preventing this potential disaster, possibly hiring a lobbyist.

The CWD crisis is a wakeup call for the residents of Wisconsin. It is time for our elected representatives to do what they have pledged to do -- represent the majority of the state's residents -- and stop the spread of this disease.

Wisconsin should buy out the deer and elk industry, and then abolish it. The white-tailed deer of Wisconsin are just too important to do otherwise.

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