According to documents filed in the District Court of the Southern District of Ohio, individuals from South Carolina conspired with individuals from Ohio and elsewhere to illegally import 54 white-tailed deer into South Carolina in late 2005.
According to John Frampton, the SCDNR's director, "This case involved a conspiracy to import deer by falsifying records associated with the purchase and shipment of deer which ultimately led to deer being illegally imported in to the state. South Carolina law prohibits the importation of deer without a permit and since the case involved interstate commerce it resulted in a Federal Lacey Act violation as well."
According to court records, James Schaffer of Charleston conspired with Danny L. Parrott of Kimbolton, Ohio and other unnamed individuals, to transport deer to South Carolina on several occasions in late 2005.
Approximately $70,000 were paid for the deer, which went to Graham's Turnout Hunt Company, a commercial deer-hunting operation in Bamberg County and owned by Schaffer.
Deer originated from a number of states, including at least one state known to harbor Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), said Charles Ruth, Deer/Turkey Project supervisor with DNR. "Fortunately, the deer were not released into the wild, but rather, they were released into several enclosures including one in excess of 500 acres."
Frampton said, "The illegal importation of deer constitutes a threat to the state's deer resource and hunting tradition, making them a great concern to the department. Additionally, deer hunting contributes over $200 million to the states economy annually, most of which is spent at the local level in counties that depend on natural resource based economics. Too much is at stake for the department, as well as, South Carolina's citizens to condone this type of activity."
According to Ruth, "Disease is at the top of the list of reasons that the importation of deer into South Carolina is not allowed. Although the deer allegedly originated in Ohio, we now know that deer came from at least 3 states including Wisconsin, a state that is known to have CWD."
CWD, a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), has recently emerged as a significant threat to North America's deer populations, Ruth said. "TSE's are fatal neurological diseases characterized by the degeneration of the brain. Although somewhat different, CWD is essentially the deer version of "Mad Cow Disease" which has been so devastating to the British livestock industry. Disease experts indicate that CWD only affects members of the deer family with no link being made to livestock or humans."
"Although the disease has been diagnosed in 14 states and two Canadian Provinces, South Carolina has had a low risk of having a problem with CWD for two reasons," Ruth said. "CWD has not been detected in the Southeast, and South Carolina is geographically far from any areas known to harbor CWD. Second, South Carolina has not allowed the interstate movement of deer, and there is evidence that movements of deer for commercial purposes have played a role in the current CWD situation nationally. Obviously, cases of illegal importation greatly increase the state's risk of introduction of CWD and are of great concern."
Colonel Alvin Taylor, SCDNR's Deputy Director of Law Enforcement,said, "DNR is diligent in monitoring for illegal activities, and this case demonstrates a cooperative interagency effort between DNR, USFWS, Ohio Division of Wildlife, and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The case originated in Ohio, and when evidence pointed to South Carolina, a USFWS agent in Ohio contacted DNR officers with whom he had previously worked. Working together the case was developed and charges filed in Ohio."
Although legal proceedings in the case are ongoing, Schaffer, the primary defendant from South Carolina, has pleaded guilty and reached an agreement with the United States Attorney's office in Southern Ohio.
Schaffer agreed to pay $50,000 to the South Carolina Harry Hampton Wildlife Fund and $50,000 to the National Wildlife Trust Fund and up to $150,000 in fines. Additionally, the enclosures in which the deer were released must be torn down or modified to comply with South Carolina law related to hunting deer inside enclosures. Shaffer is currently awaiting sentencing.
SCDNR enlisted the assistance of the United States Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services to depopulate and disease test the deer in the enclosures, according to Ruth. "Given the unknown origin and disease status of the deer there was no other option to depopulation and testing because there is no live animal test for CWD and we had to know if the disease had been introduced into the state," he said. "Diagnosis is based on examining brain and other tissues. We asked Wildlife Services for assistance because they have the staff, equipment, and training to carry out this type of operation and they did an outstanding job."
Noel Myers, State Director for Wildlife Services, said "We have worked with DNR on various projects over the years and were glad to help. Depopulating the enclosures and testing the deer was a monumental task and required the efforts of numerous personnel over the course of about a month. Deer were screened for bovine tuberculosis and assessed for general health in addition to CWD. Samples were tested by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. Working on this effort was a natural part of our program's mission to safeguard agricultural and natural resources."
Ruth said, "The enclosures contained more than the 54 deer that were imported because the case spanned two reproductive cycles, and there were some native South Carolina deer present as well. More than 200 deer were removed and tested. Results were negative for CWD, and the overall health of the deer was good. Carcasses were processed and donated to three food banks resulting in the distribution of approximately 6,000 pounds of venison to needy South Carolinians. The cost to remove, test, and process the deer was approximately $95,000, which was paid by Schaffer as part of the agreement reached with the United States Attorney's office in Southern Ohio.
Frampton added, "I am extremely pleased with the outcome of this important case and the level of cooperation exhibited between DNR, the US Attorney's Office in Southern Ohio, the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Ohio, and USDA-Wildlife Services in South Carolina. In particular, I would like to thank DNR Law Enforcement and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries biological staff for working together for over two years in order to resolve the case.
Frampton concluded, "DNR will not tolerate the illegal trafficking of deer or other wildlife in South Carolina. We have been blessed with excellent fish and wildlife resources in this state and the actions of a few individuals risking those resources for financial gain, or to suit their misguided attempts at raising trophy animals for harvest is unacceptable. The penalties in this case are very significant and serve as a strong message to others that DNR is serious about this issue."