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By Jefferson Weaver
The state moved a step closer to expanding captive deer farms Monday, as a proposal to move regulation of deer on hunting preserves from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the Department of Agriculture passed the senate.
Approved on a 44-2 vote, the changes are included in the N.C. Farm Bill for this session, which also loosens some livestock confinement operation waste rules, and opens up the state for production of eels.
Supporters of the captive cervid rule change have pushed the bill as a way to create a new form of hunting tourism in the state. By allowing the importation and breeding of species such as elk, Sitka, spruce and other deer, proponents say farmers affected by the loss of the tobacco industry could open their properties for exotic hunting opportunities.
At the same time, conservation groups, hunters and the Wildlife Resources Commission have expressed concerns that importing exotic species into the state could allow Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) to spread to the state’s native deer species.
CWD is a form of spongiform encephalitis, similar to “Mad Cow” diseases, that has decimated deer herds in more than a dozen states. The virus can remain viable in the ground for years, under ideal circumstances. CWD is spread by contact between deer, and according to wildlife officials in Colorado, could possibly be spread by exposing deer to droppings of infected animals. CWD has not been proven to spread to humans, but can affect 90 percent of native deer herds within a few years of the first outbreak.
North Carolina has avoided CWD outbreaks through strict regulations on captive herds, as well as limiting imports of animals from infected states. Some fear that weakening the rules will allow unscrupulous dealers to transfer deer from infected herds set for euthanasia into North Carolina.
The Farm Bill changes the rules to allow Department of Agriculture regulators to inspect deer farms, but keeps deer being transported under the authority of the Wildlife Resources Commission.
The bill does not address concerns that, unlike wildlife commission biologists, Dept. of Agriculture inspectors lack the ability to enter deer farms without permission. 
The bill now goes to the state house, where support is strong but passage is not expected to be as easy as in the senate.


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