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Deer breeders might sue Texas Parks and Wildlife

Breeders of white-tailed deer have warned top officials at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to not destroy any internal communications ahead of possible legal action against the agency.

In a Sept. 16 letter to Carter Smith, the department’s executive director, a lawyer for some of the state’s 1,300 breeders said that the growers of trophy bucks “have an interest in protecting their rights” in light of the department’s “emergency regulatory scheme” that followed the discovery in July of a neurological health problem — called chronic wasting disease — in a captive herd of deer in Medina County. In response, the agency temporarily halted the transportation of captive deer and called for post-mortem testing of part of the affected herd. Officials also are considering the possible annihilation of the entire 130-deer herd in which the disease was found.

The breeders’ lawyer, Jennifer Riggs, said in the letter that there is a “substantial chance” the claims will be filed.

Smith said the agency hadn’t yet been served with a lawsuit, nor has it been notified of any potential plaintiffs.

“There is very little else I could add at this juncture,” Smith wrote to the American-Statesman.

Riggs didn’t return calls for comment, and the names of the breeders she represents weren’t disclosed in the letter. There was also no indication of when a suit might be filed.

Riggs indicated in her letter to Smith that she and other lawyers might challenge a long-held provision in Texas that says all deer are considered property of the state. The lawyers could ask a judge to decide through a quick-resolution process called declaratory judgment to deem captive-bred deer to be private property, she said in her letter to Smith.

Also, breeders’ lawyers have suggested the department’s leadership might have violated open meeting laws by privately communicating with members of the gubernatorially appointed Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission “for the purpose of engaging in secret deliberations” when a quorum of the commission wasn’t present in a public meeting.

Additionally, Riggs said in her letter that the department violated breeders’ constitutional rights with its recent regulations.

Immediately following the detection of the disease, the state banned any transportation of captive deer by all the state’s breeders. Officials later allowed a small portion of breeders to move their animals ahead of the upcoming hunting season. The state later loosened the restrictions again, giving more breeders the ability to move and sell the captive-bred animals they have raised to ranches in Texas.

After Tuesday, no deer can be moved under the Parks and Wildlife Department rules unless they have had their antlers cut off. Deer hunting season begins Oct. 3 for archers and on Nov. 7 for everyone else.

Officials — along with several ranch owners — have expressed concerns that the rare disease might spread among the nearly 4 million white-tailed deer in the wild in Texas and hurt the state’s multimillion-dollar deer hunting industry.

Meanwhile, many breeders have suggested that the disease might be benign, despite the potential for serious symptoms.

The fight over deer breeding has been ongoing for years, as some ranchers — many of whom own some of the largest, most storied properties in Texas — don’t want to see the proliferation of small breeding operations and the hunting leases they serve. Many of the breeders, on the other hand, say they are operating businesses that allow them to hold onto family ranches.

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