Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed multifaceted agriculture legislation Tuesday because of his objections to an amendment that would change the definition of captive deer from wildlife to livestock and transfer regulation of the penned animals from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture.
The legislation, referred to as the farm bill, included an act designed to bring new farmers into the dairy business and to help Missouri’s dairy farmers meet their costs when bad weather ruins feed crops. It also featured several provisions aimed at helping the state’s cattle industry.
“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,” Nixon said during an appearance at Columbia’s Tiger Hotel.
The Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association pushed for the amendment, in part to get around new regulations proposed by the Department of Conservation that would regulate how the ranchers move their deer around, test them for diseases, and record births and deaths. It would also put an end to deer imports. Sam James, the association’s president, said banning deer imports would put the captive deer ranches, nearly 40 in all, out of business.
Around 150 people, including conservation department representatives, gathered in the ballroom of the Tiger Hotel to hear the governor’s decision. In 1935, the Conservation Commission was formed in the same ballroom.
Nixon outlined three reasons that the bill poses a threat to conservation efforts in the state: deer are not livestock, the state Constitution calls for the conservation department to regulate wildlife, and the proposed regulations would help prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease affecting the deer population.
“White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals,” Nixon said, “no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area.”
James, who owns two captive deer hunting ranches in Missouri, said, “The only thing that our deer have in common with their deer is that they look alike. Our animals are not wildlife.”
James argued that the conservation department rules would ruin their business. But Nixon pointed out that the department helped revive the state’s deer population and that now there are about 1.3 million of the wild animals in Missouri and over 500,000 licensed hunters, fueling a $1 billion industry.
The conservation department estimates that there are about 9,000 deer in captivity for hunting purposes, with fewer than 2,150 hunters pursuing those deer annually.
The legislature will have the chance to override the governor’s veto in September.
Agricultural supporters said the veto shows a disregard for the farmers in the state.
“More than a dozen agricultural organizations across the state banded together to show support for these bills, and to spread awareness of the importance they held for the state of Missouri,” Jim McCann, president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, said in a statement.
Brandon Butler, Executive Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, emphasized that Nixon’s decision is about protecting the wildlife that a sector of the population are trying to privatize.
“The public should understand that we’re talking about their resources,” Butler said.
David Murray, a Department of Conservation Commissioner, emphasized that the public defines where these bills will go next.
“Ultimately, the will of the public will have a lot to do with what happens next,” Murray said.