Michigan bill would change oversight of deer farms
BY Shannan O’ Neil
Capital News Service
LANSING- Bob Northrup said he and his friends follow the rules and fill out their paperwork on their deer and elk farms.
But Northrup said he has also seen his friends penalized for a mix up of paperwork and that worries him.
Two departments run the regulation of deer and elk farms and the farmers have seen issues, said Northrup, owner of Amber Elk Ranch in Ludington.
Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, has introduced a bill to make the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development solely responsible for these farms. Some farmers in his district are unhappy with the Department of Natural Resources’ role.
“I’m not real warm and fuzzy,” said Northrup, about the Department of Natural Resources regulating his farm. They would rather quarantine or decommission a farm when an issue arises than work through it, he said.
In 2001, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development regulated cervidae farms, fenced-in pieces of land where deer or elk are raised for hunting or viewing purposes. But when Chronic Wasting Disease started spreading in deer and elk, the Department of Natural Resources stepped in.
“It’s a disease that we want to keep out of the wild and free-ranging deer herd in our state because it does spread quickly and it is fatal,” said Mary Dettloff, press secretary for the Department of Natural Resources. Cervidae facilities are prone to disease spreading because the animals are fenced in. Body fluids could be shared, Dettloff said.
To prevent disease spreading, the departments inspect animal transfers, fence heights, the farm’s records, disposal of carcasses and disease testing.
A majority of the inspections and enforcement for noncompliant farms is done by the Department of Natural Resources because they have the people and resources to conduct such activities, Dettloff said.
Northrup said he doesn’t have a problem with disease on his farm. It’s just an excuse for the Department of Natural Resources to run him out of business, he said. The disease is just a tool to scare the public from liking the business and another reason for it to shut down, Northrup said.
Fenced-in deer are considered livestock, leading many to think that the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development should inspect and enforce rules. The problem is they don’t have the staff or resources, said Peter Wills, chief of staff for Hansen. Possible solutions include hiring more people for one department or bringing in a third party to assist with inspections, he said.
Working together has caused a lot of conflict: both departments inspect the same land, mix up paper work and have a lot of redundancy, Wills said.
These facilities are still best run by the Department of Natural Resources with animal health covered by the Agriculture Department, said Derek Bajema, legislative liaison for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
The departments are trying to fix the issues by meeting frequently at the staff level and the director level, Dettloff said.
“We don’t think a split agency is effective,” Wills said. “We’re not too sure if they are communicating the best they can. We think that there are some opportunities to streamline the process here.”
Some cervidae farms have deer, elk and swine, recently added to the invasive species list. The Department of Natural Resources will enforce the removal of invasive swine on cervidae farms. Hansen’s office is waiting to see how the removal and inspections play out before they push this bill, Wills said.
Michigan has 411 known fenced cervidae farms, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. People can see and interact with animals that they wouldn’t usually be able to. Farms have larger animals with bigger antlers.
“Our animals are better-antlered animals than in the wild,” Northrup said. It’s not just raised animals that use their land, Northrup said. Other animals like eagles live on his farm and people are able to see them regularly.
Editors note: Story updated Nov. 29 to correct name and the number of farms.