Despite support from an overwhelming majority of West Virginia lawmakers, we as a Legislature again failed to enact legislation that would help to expand the scope of captive cervid farming, deer and elk, in our state.
For several years now this matter has been discussed and debated by the Legislature and state officials at great length. The failure to pass a bill has achieved only one thing — putting a viable economic development and job creation issue on hold.
While surrounding neighboring states like Ohio and Pennsylvania continue to pump millions of dollars into their economies, we are in essence standing still in West Virginia when it comes to deer farming.
Ohio has approximately 700 such farms and generates $60 million annually from them. In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 1,000 deer farms that plug $80 million into the Keystone State’s economy. In West Virginia we have 26 deer farms and they are struggling to survive.
Why? Because current state law is too restrictive and does nothing to help promote or expand the industry. We again tried to resolve that matter during the recently completed legislative session but were stonewalled by our leaders in the Department of Natural Resources.
West Virginia lawmakers are nearly unanimous in their support for placing the deer farms under the control of the Department of Agriculture and that only makes sense. Livestock situated behind fence come under the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Commissioner and they are regulated and tended to as such. Whether they happen to be deer, cattle, sheep, that’s the way it has to be. Those wild deer outside the fences are and should be managed by the DNR, but deer inside the fences have to come under the purview of the Agriculture Department because they are livestock, plain and simple.
And as for the question of chronic wasting and other diseases that impact cervids, at this time there are no confirmed CWD cases in our captive herds. They are only documented in our wild deer population. However, to say it can’t or won’t happen inside of those fences would be naïve. Diseases are going to be a part of the picture no matter what, and it’s a problem and concern we will continue to have to address, but it can’t be a deal breaker.
Our deer farmers should have the right to operate legitimate, job-creating businesses that would also provide a marketplace to West Virginians and others to purchase venison. Right now, if you purchase venison in West Virginia, it is from somewhere outside our state. That shouldn’t be happening. We are staring right at millions in private investment dollars waiting to be spent in our state, yet we just can’t seem to see past the proverbial trees.