Two Republican state senators, Andrew Brock and Brent Jackson, have introduced a bill that would strip the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission of regulatory authority to manage penned-in deer and turn it over to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The bill transfers the ability and power to manage captive whitetail deer, elk, mule deer, moose and exotic animals including axis, fallow and red deer and test them for diseases, plus permit more deer farms and eventually approve importation of animals from others states.

Sections of the “North Carolina Farm Act of 2015,” SB 513, dovetail with previously unsuccessful attempts by the N.C. Deer Farmers Association to wrest captive-cervid control from the Commission and give it to the NCDA. For years, deer farmers have claimed the Commission’s rules have been too strict.

Sen. Brock represents Davie, Iredell and Rowan counties. Iredell is home of the Lazy 5 Ranch, owned by Henry Hampton, one of N.C.’s major cervid and exotic-animal traders and a member of the N.C. Deer Farmers Association. Sen. Jackson represents Duplin, Johnston and Sampson counties. According to followthemoney.com, he has raised $1.3 million for three successful Senate campaigns.

Earlier, Rep. Roger West (R-Marble), who represents a western district that is home to a large captive-cervid farm, got an amendment added in the 2014 Budget Act that banned the Commission from using Chronic Wasting Disease standards stronger than USDA rules, promoted more captive cervid licenses, permitted the sale of cervid body parts and may allow the importation of cervids into North Carolina after July 1, 2017.

CWD is an always-fatal disease that has infected wild deer in more than 20 states. It is more prevalent in populations of penned or captive cervids, especially whitetail deer and elk.

Conservation organizations, including the N.C. Wildlife Federation, N.C. Camo Coalition and Quality Deer Management Association have opposed these changes.

“This bill, introduced by Senator Jackson, a powerful member of the Senate and former Agriculture Committee chairman, is three pages chock full of changes we’ve opposed the last three years,” said Richard B. Hamilton, the executive director of the N.C. Camo Coalition and former executive director of the Commission. “It incorporates everything the deer farmers wanted. It transfers the entire program from the Commission to (NCDA), including importing, possession, licensing and transportation of cervids. It all goes to (NCDA), and they’ll manage it.”

The legislation would continue a ban on the importation of cervids from CWD states, but only until a USDA-approved live-animal test for the disease is discovered. Penalties for violating NCDA cervid-farm rules would change from criminal penalties to civil penalties, which can reach $5,000.

“But the bill doesn’t budget extra money to Agriculture, and it has no enforcement staff,” Hamilton said. “It’s a big game of roulette the legislature is playing with North Carolina’s native deer, and there’s no need to do it. The Commission has done a great job keeping CWD out of the state.”

The N.C. Wildlife Federation voiced opposition to the bill.

“North Carolina does not need to relax regulations governing the issuance of new captivity licenses for white-tailed deer and elk, nor does the state need to allow the sale of captive deer and elk to fulfill the demand of fenced shooting preserves for paying customers in places like Texas,” the NCWF said in a news release. “We feel strongly that the commercialization and exploitation of public trust resources is extremely damaging to professional, science-based wildlife management of our native deer herds.”

If passed in the N.C. Senate, the bill will go to the N.C. House for consideration.