Source: Craig Holt, North Carolina Sportsman

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission slowed a concerted push to create more deer pens in North Carolina at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday in Raleigh, voting to allow new farms to be built for axis, fallow and red deer – but not for whitetail deer and elk.

The Commission’s vote bucked the Republican governor and legislature, which included in their 2014 budget bill language that would have allowed for the expansion of deer farms, relaxed restrictions on the transportation of pen-raised deer and taken much of the oversight of those pens from the Commission to the N.C. Department of Agriculture.

“I think the sportsmen of North Carolina should be proud of what the Commission did today,” said Tom Berry, a commissioner from Greensboro who was appointed by Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), the president of the N.C. Senate. “We did not pass the buck, so to speak.

“Now what we need is clarification on whether it is legal to sell deer (at all) in the state of North Carolina.”

Whitetail deer and elk will still be managed by the Commission under regulations that are aimed at preventing the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a brain disease that is always fatal and can have far-reaching effects on populations where it is found. The importation of whitetails and elk will remain prohibited, and no new fenced-in facilities for those two species can be built in North Carolina. Currently, 37 such facilities are registered with the Commission.

The Commission’s vote allowed new facilities to be built to hold axis, fallow and red deer because they are not known to transmit or be stricken with CWD.

The decision allowed opponents of the spread of deer farms to breathe a sigh of relief, and according to Commission data, there were plenty.

Dr. David Cobb, head of the agency’s Division of Wildlife Management, reviewed public comments that were received. At two public hearings leading up to Thursday’s meeting, 51 sportsmen made comments in opposition to relaxing deer-farm regulations. Comments made online, through emails and in cards and letters sent to the Commission, 1,968 were in opposition, and two petitions were submitted in opposition.

This year’s tussle mirrored one in 2012 after which the Commission rejected a similar attempt to take its control of deer-farm management and give it to the NCDA. Both attempts have been supported by the N.C. Deer Farmers Association and the National Deer Farmers Association.

Sources indicate the deer-farm expansion language in the 2014 budget was introduced by Rep. Roger West (R-Marble), at the request of a constituent who is one of the state’s largest deer-pen operators and leases land from the Cherokee Nation to raise deer.

Richard Hamilton, executive director of the N.C. Camouflage Coalition and a former executive director of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, pleased overall at the Commission’s actions. He had no problem with the decision to allow fallow, red and axis deer to be imported for new facilities that will be licensed.

“The main question now will be what will happen after 2017?” said Hamilton, an opponent of the expansion of deer farms and the easing of transportation regulations. “One of other problems with CWD is no one really knows its incubation period, how long it remains dormant in an infected cervid, and that’s what we’ve got to worry about after 2017.”

The Commission did not address one part of the budget act that said it could not issue transportation permits for the importation of whitetail deer or elk until July 1, 2017. That left open the possibility that another change could take place after that date.