The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission adopted new rules Monday to combat a disease found in deer, but the new rules could put a strain on many of the state’s 1,300 deer breeding businesses.
The commission’s vote came after months of discussions with interested groups, including breeders, ranch owners who sell hunting leases, environmental groups and livestock organizations.
The purpose for new regulations is to address how the state is going to deal with chronic wasting disease. The neurological condition — which affects deer, elk and maybe moose, but not humans — can cause weight loss, behavioral changes, brain lesions, excessive salivation, pneumonia, difficulty swallowing and head tremors.
It was discovered last year at a breeding facility in Medina County, near San Antonio.
With the commission’s unanimous vote on Monday, deer breeders will have to comply with increased regulation. There will be limited movement of breeder deer across the state, increased postmortem testing for chronic wasting disease and more live testing for the disease, too.
Deer breeding opponent Jenny Sanders, who is executive director of Texans for Saving our Hunting Heritage, called the commission vote a win.
Sanders, who also has served a manager on the 11,300-acre Temple Ranch near Freer in South Texas, said chronic wasting disease as a major threat to white-tailed deer in Texas and to the multibillion-dollar hunting industry. The state had the responsibility to protect the state’s 4 million white-tailed deer, she said.
Not everyone agreed with Sanders and the commissioners.
Particularly frustrated were few dozen members of Texas’ biggest deer breeding group, who walked out of a meeting before the vote even occurred.
Breeders involved with the Texas Deer Association said they believed the members of the commission had come to the meeting with their minds made up.
Marty Berry, a breeder from South Texas, said he felt like the commissioners didn’t care to hear from breeders.
“Nothing else can be accomplished at this level, “ he said.
Hugo Berlanga, a former member of the Texas House from Corpus Christi and owner of a deer breeding business, said the breeding industry in Texas is already on “life support.” The new regulations will come with high costs and will force some breeding operations of out business, he said.
“They have done so much damage to breeders,” he said.
Berlanga said the process was rigged to the benefit of large ranch owners who fear competition from smaller businesses that are often close to metro areas.
“It’s a bunch of elitists. I can’t explain it any simpler than that,” said Berlanga, a board member of the Texas Deer Association.
Sanders, whose group’s members include some representatives from major Texas ranches, has rejected the notion that the breeder fight is about large ranch owners trying to eliminate competition from breeders.
Rather, she said in a recent op-ed published in the San Antonio Express News, that “a small group of deer breeders” has “embarked on an effort to undermine” the efforts of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Josh Havens, a spokesman for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said the commission has heard testimony from a number of individuals who either represent themselves, organizations and landowners.
“(T)his is a public resource issue, and the commission will make their decision based on science and what is in the best interest of the states wildlife and hunting heritage,” Havens wrote in a text message.
Berry, the South Texas breeder, said his and other breeders’ fight won’t end with the commission vote.
An already-filed lawsuit is going to be part of the answer, he said.
“That’s going to be the next step before the Legislature,” he said.