It has been said that people who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it, good or bad. In this case, the goings-on aren’t in South Carolina, but they’re worth noting.
A handful of years ago, proponents of deer-farming put the agency that controls fishing and wildlife in neighboring North Carolina directly in their crosshairs. Like South Carolina and a lot of other states in the Southeast, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been very restrictive in its regulations concerning captive whitetail deer and other cervids, including elk and exotic animals, in hopes of preventing the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a deadly brain disease that is believed to be spread mostly through captive cervid populations but can infect animals in the wild.
Deer-farming proponents were turned aside that time, but they came back to North Carolina last year and spread more than $20,000 in campaign contributions around among the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of agriculture and leading members of the Republican-controlled state legislature. Voila! The legislature passed a directive that the NCWRC make it easier for cervid farmers to do business.
The agency’s leadership met and decided that it would relax regulations concerning axis, fallow and red deer — species not believed to spread CWD — while continuing its restrictions on captive populations of whitetail deer and elk.
The deer farmers took that decision in stride. Yeah, sure. Within a month of the NCWRC’s vote, a special legislative committee meeting was called — outside of the normal legislative schedule — during which six deer-farm supporters, two of them from out-of-state groups, ripped the agency’s policies to shreds. They were enabled by one legislator whose constituents include the owner of one of North Carolina’s largest captive-deer facilities. The legislator, chairman of that committee, didn’t allow any rebuttal to the deer-farm crowd’s assertions and even gavelled the meeting to a close when one legislator from the minority party dared ask to hear from the agency.
This worries me as far as South Carolina is concerned, because everything wildlife-related has to come through the legislature. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has been vigilant to restrict captive deer to the two-dozen or so enclosures that were in place before legislation in the late 1990s and early 2000s made it illegal to build deer pens or import any deer into the state and made it illegal to farm deer commercially. With a $300 million deer-hunting industry in place, it has to do everything it can to protect it from the threat of disease.
So let’s make sure that if deer-farming groups start throwing money around in South Carolina’s legislature to try and get some traction — and chances are they will — we throw it right back. We simply can’t afford not to. Our whitetail deer and the state’s outdoors legacy is too important.