Ag, DNR officials raise questions about ‘captive hunting’

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The loaded issue of hunting genetically-engineered deer within fenced preserves could be coming before the General Assembly for consideration next year.

A House subcommittee heard two hours of testimony Monday on the issue of “captive hunting,” which is being proposed as a way to lure hunters to Georgia and create jobs in rural areas.

No specific legislation has been introduced yet to legalize this particular procedure for shooting penned-up wildlife, but lawmakers expect a bill to be dropped during the early weeks of the 2012 session.

“There’s no legislation pending yet,” said Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton), who chairs the subcommittee of the House Game & Fish Committee that is studying the proposal.  “I’m sure there will be some.”

Proponents of captive hunting want to establish “deer farms” where white-tailed deer would be bred and raised for harvesting by visiting sportsmen within a fenced-in preserve.  Deer from other states would be imported for cross-breeding with Georgia animals to produce trophy bucks with the large antlers prized by hunters.

“A state known for its hunting like Georgia is missing out on a great economic opportunity,” said Marty Harrell, the owner of Camilla Pecan Co. and a proponent of deer farms.  “Georgia would be a prime state to get into it.”

Harrell said 33 states already allow deer farming, including Texas, where it has grown to a $1.3 billion industry.

“It comes down to personal property rights,” said Steve Croy of the Georgia Deer Association.  “If you want to grow white-tailed deer instead of corn, our Georgians ought to have the opportunity to do that.”

“I’m looking at anything that can enhance economic development in rural Georgia,” said Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla), who supports deer farming.  “Just because this is the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean we have to keep doing it.  We’ve got to be flexible.”

Officials with the departments of agriculture and natural resources said there could be some public health concerns connected with the operation of deer farms.

Dr. Robert Cobb, the state veterinarian, warned that importing wildlife into Georgia could cause outbreaks of infectious diseases like tuberculosis and brucellosis that would harm the state’s domestic livestock.

“We have had brucellosis coming in from wildlife and infecting our domestic livestock,” Cobb said.  “That is our concern.  The more animals that are brought in, the more potential you have of something infecting our livestock.”

Cobb noted that there has been an outbreak of tuberculosis in Michigan and added, “if it ever gets into our livestock, it’s difficult if not impossible to control.”

Todd Holbrook, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said there was also the possibility that imported wildlife would bring in chronic wasting disease (CWD), a transmissible neurological disease of deer and elk that is similar to mad cow disease in cattle.

Holbrook also cautioned legislators about the possible drawbacks of raising genetically engineered deer that could escape from the farms and interbreed with native deer.

“Bigger antlers doesn’t always equal better genetics,” Holbrook said.  “It is not genetic improvement of an animal population.”

The sporting element involved in the shooting of animals within the confines of a fenced-in preserve also generated comments at the subcommittee hearing.

Jessica DuBois of the Humane Society of the United States said her organization opposed the practice of captive hunting.

“We’re taking the hunt out of hunting,” said Sam Stowe, the sportsmen’s programs manager of the Georgia Wildlife Federation.  “We’re not hunting – we’re shooting deer in a pen.  We’re opening up a Pandora’s box here.”

“If the animal doesn’t have a gun and can’t shoot back, is it ever fair?” Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) asked rhetorically.

The proposal to legalize deer farming is similar to other hunting legislation that has been introduced in the General Assembly this year.

The Legislature passed and Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law HB 277, which allows the hunting of deer over a baited field.

Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas) sponsored SB 188, which would have allowed the importation of such ‘alternative livestock’ as elk, red deer, fallow deer, blackbuck antelope, horned oryx antelope, and waterbuck antelope for hunting preserve purposes.

SB 188 lost by a 30-20 vote on the Senate floor.

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: agriculture department , capitive hunting , deer farms , DNR , Robert Cobb , Roger Bruce , Todd Holbrook , Tom McCall