A northwest Minnesota deer farmer and former Kittson County sheriff says he’ll show his trophy bucks at a St. Paul sportsmen’s show that begins Thursday, Jan. 9, and will continue to bring his live trophy whitetail exhibit to future shows, despite an emergency rule the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued last month that temporarily prohibits the movement of all white-tailed deer within the state.
The DNR issued the 30-day rule Monday, Dec. 23, after chronic wasting disease was discovered in a farmed white-tailed deer in Douglas County.
Steve Porter of Lake Bronson, Minn., who operates Steve Porter’s Trophy Whitetail, defied the emergency rule Tuesday, when he trailered deer from his trophy whitetail farm to St. Paul. He said he believes the DNR doesn’t have the authority to regulate domestic deer, which are classified as livestock and regulated by the Board of Animal Health.
“The DNR passes a bogus 30-day ban on movement, and who does it affect the hardest? Me,” said Porter, who has a history of criticizing the DNR for its CWD management policies. “I’m sitting here saying I’m going to lose all of my winter show income.”
In an interview Wednesday, Porter said he asked the DNR for a permit allowing him to transport his trophy bucks to St. Paul for the show but was told there would be no exceptions to the emergency rule. Upon arriving in St. Paul on Tuesday, Porter said two DNR conservation officers told him he’d be receiving a ticket for a misdemeanor violation in the mail within the next 10 days.
Col. Rodmen Smith, director of the DNR’s Division of Enforcement, said agency personnel had a couple of different conversations with Porter before the show telling him there would be no exceptions to the rule and that he’d be cited with a misdemeanor if he violated the restriction.
A fine for the misdemeanor hasn’t been assessed, Smith said, and the DNR didn’t confiscate Porter’s deer or equipment.
“Under statute for farmed cervids, deer are defined as livestock,” Smith said. “The DNR only has authority to confiscate and seize wild animals, so we did not confiscate or seize Mr. Porter’s deer or truck.”
Porter said he plans to challenge the fine in court and is prepared to receive similar citations for future shows scheduled while the emergency rule is in effect.
“I’m innocent until proven guilty,” he said. “I’ve got four shows in about a 30-day period and pretty much all of them are right in this time frame. I’m supposed to forfeit $40,000 to $50,000 of my annual income because the DNR says nobody can travel with deer. Or it’s a $300 fine if you go.
“You’re not fighting CWD by keeping me from showing my deer at an event.”
The DNR implemented the emergency rule after the Board of Animal Health confirmed an 8-year-old whitetail doe in a two-deer hobby farm tested positive for the fatal brain disease. The deer had connections to other Minnesota deer farms, and the emergency rule was necessary to give the state time to investigate other locations with connections to the hobby farm, the DNR’s Smith said.
“We just want to make sure we don’t have a situation where deer are being loaded and moved while we’re still trying to trace out exactly what we have to deal with here with this latest positive,” Smith said.
Prions, the infectious agents that cause CWD, persist on the landscape indefinitely and are found in urine, saliva, blood, feces, muscle and antler velvet of infected deer, and the disease can be transmitted by animal-to-animal contact.
At last count, Minnesota had 75 confirmed cases of CWD in wild deer.
Porter, who said he wants to halt the spread of CWD, has a closed herd, he said, and hasn’t brought other deer onto his property for at least a dozen years. He also said he tests 20% to 25% of his animals annually for CWD.
“I’m clean, and my deer don’t touch other deer,” Porter said. “I can drive my deer to St. Paul. They’re clean, but they don’t leave the trailer and they come right back.”
Porter on Wednesday said he’s set up with his live whitetail display in the St. Paul RiverCentre for the Minnesota Sportsmen’s Show that continues through Sunday, Jan. 12.
“I’m in the building, my deer are set up, I’m sitting at the show and life is good,” he said. “I have signed contracts with shows, and these shows have advertised that I’m going to be here.”
The issue is bigger than Porter being cited for violating the emergency rule, Smith said. Stopping the spread of CWD is going to require everyone’s cooperation, he said, and other cervid producers also have been told there will be no exceptions to the emergency rule.
“The big difference between CWD in a wild herd and a cervid farm is you can load three deer up in northwest Minnesota and transport them 300 miles in one afternoon,” Smith said. “That’s where we saw the significant risk with this latest find in Douglas County.”