The National Deer Alliance, an advocacy group for wild deer made up of public and private interests, is calling on Minnesota's Legislative Audit Commission to review deer farm oversight by the state Board of Animal Health.
Federal Premium Conservation Director Ryan Bronson, a board member at National Deer Alliance, said Friday that the organization is concerned about the possible spread of chronic wasting disease from captive deer in Minnesota to the state's wild herd. The resource of more than 1 million free-ranging whitetails generates annual economic activity of more than $500 million.
The alliance suspects that the Board of Animal Health is too cozy with the farmed deer industry to effectively regulate it, Bronson said. The state is home to about 460 deer and elk farms, including herds of penned animals sold for private shooting.
"If the agency isn't protecting the interests of all Minnesotans — and it's not just hunters — that's troubling,'' Bronson said.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, who is vice chair of the Legislative Audit Commission, said he received the audit request and forwarded it to Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles. Nobles could decide on his own to investigate, or the request will become a potential topic for consideration by the commission, Hansen said.
Hansen said the audit request didn't come with a specific allegation of wrongdoing, but he supports an independent evaluation of the commission based on his belief that the Board of Animal Health is an example of "regulatory capture'' by the livestock industry.
National Deer Alliance President Nick Pinizzotto said in a blog post that the audit request was inspired by a recent Star Tribune story that quoted an assistant director at the Board of Animal Health as saying: "We want to be careful [about CWD] but we don't want to be careful to the point where people go bankrupt."
Wrote Pinizzotto: "NDA's position is that regulators should place the health of wild deer populations as a higher priority than protecting the narrow interests of'' deer farms.
Bronson said the National Deer Alliance was formed two years ago and includes three nonprofit deer groups as members. Another member is the public Association for Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Minnesotan Jay McAninch, a former Minnesota DNR big game biologist and current president of the Archery Trade Association, is chairman of the alliance.