Will buying and selling white-tailed deer be allowed in Mississippi? Here's what we know.
'We have a law that specifically says we don't sell deer. If it's even considered by the commission, I'll do everything to stop that.'
The sale of white-tailed deer has long been illegal in Mississippi, but a recent opinion from the state's Attorney General's Office states the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has the ability to make it legal, and a representative of a landowner group said he'll ask the commission to do just that.
It's a possible move that some say is illegal, could facilitate disease transmission and contradicts basic conservation principles.
And a key Mississippi Legislator stated he will take action against it if the commission so much as entertains it.
According to minutes of the January 2022 meeting, former commissioner Billy Deviney appeared before the commission. Deviney, who owns a high-fence enclosure and deer breeding facility, said there were 114 regulated high-fence enclosures in Mississippi and four deer breeding facilities at that time.
He said he and other enclosure and breeding facility owners would like to be able to buy and sell deer that have been captive-bred to carry genes that can produce larger antlered bucks and have formed an organization called the Private Landowners Association of Mississippi. Sales would not include wild deer and only take place between regulated enclosure owners.
Deviney said he and his attorneys believe state law gives the commission authority to allow such sales and presented a letter requesting an opinion from the Attorney General's office.
An opinion was rendered in October and stated that despite a law that forbids the sale of white-tailed deer, another law expressly gives the commission authority to regulate deer in enclosures and therefore the authority to regulate sales.
Possible Legislative action on deer sales
State Rep. Bill Kinkade, R-Byhalia, disagrees and intends to stop any forward movement.
"We have a law that specifically says we don't sell deer," Kinkade, chairman of the House Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Committee said. "If it's even considered by the commission, I'll do everything to stop that.
"That is not our focus in our state. Let's make sure we understand our mission and that's conservation."
Commission chairman Bill Cossar said he is unsure of the commission's view on the idea at this point.
"I've not heard a word since the AG's opinion," Cossar said. "There's been zero talk about it as far as I know."
The opinion and idea of selling and transporting deer, and the ownership of deer by individuals, has met with opposition from conservation groups and others.
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Privatization of Mississippi deer
"I have received more calls from hunters in Mississippi concerned about the privatization of the public‘s wildlife than any other issue in my 30-year career," said James Cummins, executive director of Wildlife Mississippi. “The idea of allowing the sale of live deer in Mississippi is about as popular in the mainstream hunting and conservation community as an atheist at a Baptist convention.”
In fact, the idea of ownership of deer and other native species contradicts the North American Model of Conservation which appears on the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks' own website. It's a set of principles that guides wildlife management and one of its most basic pillars is that wildlife is owned by everyone, not individuals.
Within the model is a set of foundational guidelines, best known as the Seven Sisters for Conservation. On MDWFP's website, one of those guidelines reads as follows:
Democratic Rule of Law. Wildlife is allocated for use by citizens through laws. This protects against the rise of elites who would appropriate wildlife to themselves (as occurred in Europe). All citizens can participate, if necessary through the courts, in developing systems of wildlife conservation and use.
Cummins said that if the sale of deer is allowed, he expects that the matter will land in court.
Transporting deer could spread CWD
One of the biggest concerns is chronic wasting disease. It is an always-fatal disease for deer and other related species such as elk. It is already negatively impacting deer populations in North Mississippi. There is currently no recommended method to test live deer for the disease and there is no cure or vaccination for it.
Some fear moving deer around the state offers an opportunity to unnaturally and unnecessarily speed the spread of the disease.
"Not only do we believe this conclusion is erroneous and contrary to Mississippi law, but we have significant conservation concerns should the Commission promulgate a regulation allowing for the commercial trade of white-tailed deer held within high-fenced enclosures," a group of conservation organizations wrote in a letter to the commission. "Specifically, we have concerns about disease transmission– namely, chronic wasting disease (CWD) – should the Commission allow for the commercial trade and live movement of captive white-tailed deer between captive deer facilities, both intra and interstate."
The letter went on to state, "CWD spreads the fastest and the furthest when carried in a vehicle, and that's something that all deer managers and hunters should be concerned about."
The letter was signed by conservation groups Artemis, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers – National, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers – Southeast Chapter, Boone and Crockett Club, Mississippi Wildlife Federation, National Deer Association, National Wildlife Federation, Pope and Young Club, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
Deviney said he is currently researching how sales of deer are handled in neighboring states where it is allowed; Alabama and Louisiana. When he and others in the group agree on what will work best in Mississippi, a proposal will be presented.
"Where we are today is because we've only heard one side of the story," Deviney said in a recent interview. "We're contacting each other and setting our priorities."
Contact Brian Broom at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601-961-7225.