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.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources started regulating deer farms to combat disease spreading, but their role has frustrated farmers. Photo: Hans J E (Flickr)

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.

  • Aaron

    I agree with some of your comments. Hunting on one of these farms or any animal in an enclosed area is not hunting. It is morally and ethically wrong. There is nothing wrong with farming these animals though for the venison. It it a much better meat than beef is because it is so lean. Beef can’t compete with venison. Cows had to be domesticated also. That is why we have beef farms. There are ranches out there that do not let people shoot their animals and call it hunting, and are strictly meat ranchers. They are few and far between though. This has nothing to do with democrats and republicans. It was about ranchers being concerned with a system that doesn’t work as well as it should. Maybe if we all focus on how to fix the problems instead of who’s fault it is or who is shady we would actually be able to accomplish something at all levels of government in our state and nation.

  • Paul

    The 4 previous comments hit the nail right on the head and covered all the reasons why these deer “farms” should not exist. If they are allowed to operate, they should be stringently regulated by an agency that can and will assume the responsibility seriously, that being the MI DNR. As to the Raging Russian Boars, the sooner they are regulated out of existence in MI, the better. The extreme damage that feral hogs, which have escaped from these “fenced game farms”, do is no small matter. The damage to agricultural crops and lands, not considering public land, is calculated in the Billions of dollars in the southern and southwestern states. Mexico has initiated a program to eradicate 50,000 feral hogs that have moved over the border from Texas, etc. But the Repugs will likely prevail, they have no common sense or understanding.

  • MichiganBiologist

    These farms can exist only if they accept full legal and financial responsibility through proper liability insurance and bonding to pay for any damages to the natural herd Oh, wait, that would prevent them from affording to run these “farms”. Exactly.

  • Bob

    The cervid facilities are all about big money for our large deer antlers. One large buck can be sold for $20-80,000 to a phoney rich braggart that can tell whatever story back in the big city. This has nothing to do with the average state deer hunter. Geoff Hansen brags how he is for sale to highest bidder as he showed with the Matty Mouroon bribes to kill the Canadian bridge and jobs in West Michigan. We have plenty of money to buy Geoff Hansen.

  • Chris

    Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart, is well known in West Michigan for his hatred of the DNR, DEQ, and NRTF. Sen Hansen supports several bills aimed to destroy the funding of the DNR, NRTF, and selling off the Great Lake by his campaign contributors. Hansen doesn’t care a bit about diseases of the state deer as long as he gets his free hunts and campaign money from the deer farms.

  • Harold

    “Captive cervidae” is just a fancy term for “canned hunts”. Shooting fenced-in animals should not be considered “hunting”. Why the state ever allowed people to capture white-tailed deer for this purpose is beyond me. The Republican reps pushing this are just anti-DNR. They know that the Department of Agriculture doesn’t care about wildlife so they will be less inclined to be protective of anything but the farmers. And that’s another issue–anyone who encloses deer for people to shoot should not be considered a farmer. Most of the fenced-in deer enclosures have no relationship to a farm. Let’s face it–this is just another cheap attack by a Republican who doesn’t like the DNR doing it’s job.