Missouri Governor Vetoes Deer-Farm Bills

The heated debate regarding the oversight of commercial deer preserves and captive deer farming in Missouri has ended, at least for now.

Gov. Jay Nixon, under pressure by special interests from both sides, vetoed two bills this week that would have designated captive deer as livestock instead of wildlife, while shifting management of preserve whitetails from the state Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture.

In his veto announcement made Tuesday during special meeting of the Missouri Conservation Commission, Nixon said the provisions of SB 506 and HB1326 go against longstanding successful conservation practices and violate the Missouri Constitution, which gives exclusive authority over game and wildlife resources to the Conservation Commission.

Both measures were attached to larger omnibus agriculture bills near the close of the general session and were largely passed with the direction of the Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association.

Sportsmen’s organizations, deer hunting groups and the Conservation Federation of Missouri, the largest citizens’ conservation organization in the state opposed the bills and applauded the governor’s action this week. Among other reasons cited, the groups pointed to the need to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease in The Show Me State, where the only confirmed cases so far have been found at commercial deer-farming operations.

At this time, it is unknown if there are sufficient votes to override the governor’s veto.

“For more than 75 years, our Department of Conservation has been held up as a model for wildlife management agencies across the country because of its incredible success,” Gov. Nixon said. “Redefining deer as livestock to remove the regulatory role of Department defies both its clear record of achievement as well as common sense. White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals – no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area.”

Nixon, a second-term Democrat, is an avid deer hunter who has been very supportive of the state’s hunting tradition. When successful, the governor has made a public donation of his venison to the state’s Share the Harvest Program .

In his veto message, the Governor cited the exclusive authority of the Missouri Conservation Commission provided by the Missouri Constitution under Article IV, Section 40(a). He also said that under the stewardship of the Missouri Department of Conservation, the state’s population of white-tailed deer has grown from fewer than 2,000 in the early 1930s to an estimated 1.3 million today, and that the 500,000 deer hunters contribute $1 billion to Missouri’s economy.

“Growing and managing our deer herd and fostering the hunting opportunities that we enjoy takes hard work and sound science, and the Department of Conservation should be commended for employing both to preserve this important part of our heritage, not stripped of its authority to do so in order to protect narrow interests,” the veto message reads.

Gov. Nixon noted that “it is unfortunate that the legislature insisted on amending this unconstitutional provision to two pieces of legislation that otherwise contain worthy provisions advancing Missouri agriculture.”