Driftwood Outdoors: Making a strong statement

Governor sends message with vetoes of captive deer bills

Deer are wildlife, not livestock. Making a more obvious statement would be difficult.

During Gov. Nixon’s announcement of his vetoes of SB 506 and HB 1326, which would reclassify captive deer as livestock, he proclaimed the reclassification of “wildlife” to “livestock” would violate the Missouri Constitution.

Nixon said, “White-tailed deer are wildlife, and they are also a game animal. Putting them behind a fence does not change that fact.”

You would think violating our Constitution would be the end of these bills, but no. Certain legislators are declaring they will override the Governor’s vetoes and force control of captive deer on the Missouri Department of Agriculture, which has openly testified against the transfer.

The Governor has stated the bills are unconstitutional and has vetoed them. The Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t want these bills to pass. The Missouri Department of Agriculture doesn’t want these bills to pass. The Kansas City Star, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jefferson City News Tribune, Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic and many more media sources across Missouri have denounced the bills. The Conservation Federation of Missouri, Quality Deer Management Association, Whitetails Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Mule Deer Foundation, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and just about every other conservation organization you can name publicly opposes these bills.

And most importantly, the vast majority of our state’s citizens, represented by an outpouring of letters, emails and phone calls to the Governor’s office, which was reported in an Associated Press article, don’t want these bills to pass.

So you’re probably left scratching your head wondering why in the world we’re still talking about calling deer livestock. Why would legislators who are elected by the people and paid with public tax dollars focus any of their efforts on overriding unconstitutional legislation the vast majority of our state’s citizens are against?

In a Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic article, Rep. Casey Guernsey said MDC had made him and other legislators mad, calling the department an example of “bad government,” so he was intent on fast-tracking and passing this bill as a way, in no uncertain words, to punish them with a veto-proof majority”

So because they are “mad,” some of your elected senators and representatives want to punish MDC by stripping their control of wildlife management so a few shooting ranches can continue to ship potentially diseased, drugged, out-of-state deer into fenced facilities where only the wealthiest can afford to pay tens-of-thousands of dollars to kill genetically mutated “livestock.” Doesn’t seem right, does it? And you know who really suffers? Not MDC, you. And everyone who believes wildlife is a public resource.

It goes much deeper, though. If you’re a sportsman, or just someone who enjoys nature, you may not realize just how incredibly fortunate you are to live in Missouri. The system of conservation governance we have here in our state is unique, and successful beyond the wildest dreams of most other states. In 1936, when forest, fish and wildlife were at all time lows, the people of Missouri made a bold statement by passing a constitutional amendment that took control of our state’s distraught natural resources away from the politicians who had propagated such decimation and placed the responsibility of conservation management with a citizen led Conservation Commission.

Because the General Assembly does not have authority over MDC, these same “mad” legislators argue MDC is “accountable to no one.” Nothing could be further from the truth. MDC is accountable to everyone. For nearly 80 years, MDC has answered to citizens like you and me. The conservation-minded Missourians who came before us fought to establish our unique and successful model of conservation governance. MDC continues to honor their legacy.

In Missouri, wildlife scientists who have the necessary funding to do their jobs at the highest level manage conservation. The reason why our fish and wildlife thrive here is because politicians can’t just hand out favors to their friends like a few of them are trying to do now.

Most of our legislators are proud to live in a state with such an esteemed system of science-based conservation management, and are happy to leave our world-class system alone. Yet, a select few are hell-bent on destroying what nearly 80 years of sound-science and public resource management has built. I suggest you find out where your legislators stand.

The few leading the fight to override the vetoes of SB 506 and HB 1326 are claiming MDC is infringing on the private property rights of high-fence captive shooting facilities, because these “farmers” nurture and care for these animals. If you believe shipping a drugged deer from out-of-state to a fenced-facility in a gooseneck trailer and then letting someone pay to shoot it is nurturing and caring, then we have vastly different definitions of those words.

And if these politicians want to talk about private property rights, then what about the private property rights of the landowners who border or are in close proximity to these facilities? Their private property rights are at risk every time another out-of-state deer is trucked into a facility, potentially bringing with it Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) or another deadly wildlife disease. Once CWD is passed through the fence onto a neighbor’s land, what do you think happens to that neighbor’s land value through no fault of their own? Should the private property rights of a single landowner override the private property rights of all their neighbors? I’m not a lawyer, but I would think your private property rights end when they threaten the rights of everyone around you.

“Short-sighted and cynical assaults like this are the very reason why the Conservation Commission must and shall remain a strong and independent custodian of our state’s time honored traditions and precious resources,” Gov. Nixon said.

The differences between the two sides of this entire captive cervid issue are many, but it essentially boils down to this. Those opposed are citizen conservationists passionate about wildlife and ethical hunting standards, who give selflessly in support of public resources. Those in favor are financially invested.

Gov. Nixon said it’s time for conservation to stop playing defense and to go on offense. I echo his sentiment. If you have yet to engage in this fight, the time is now.

Every Missouri conservationist must take action. Talk about this issue in your community. Write letters to your local newspapers. Contact your legislators, and insist your family and friends do the same. Tell your legislators pointedly you support the vetoes of SB 506 and HB 1326.

See you down the trail …

Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com.

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