Alabama leads most states in deer regulations.
Alabama moved to prohibit the importation of deer, elk or other cervids decades before other states across the country adopted similar regulations to protect their native deer herds from devastating diseases carried by live animals brought in from other states.
Several years ago, there was a frenzied effort across America to stop interstate movement and importation of deer and like animals in the face of the spread of chronic wasting disease. This horrible, always-fatal disease wipes out deer and requires depopulating entire regions in order to stop the spread.
Thankfully, our state already had a regulation making it illegal to "possess, sell, offer for sale, import, bring, release or cause to be brought or imported into the State of Alabama … any of the following from any area outside the State of Alabama: any member of the family Cervidae (to include but not be limited to deer, elk, moose, caribou)."
Wildlife professionals in other states asked how in the world Alabama had the foresight to adopt such a regulation 20-30 years before anybody even knew about CWD. Nobody remained in the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division who knew the context in which the regulation was promulgated.
Upon inquiry, the answer to the question had nothing to do with disease.
Alabama’s ban on importation came about as a result of concern over canned hunts – when a hunter (if you can call them that) is guaranteed a specific animal. Those who remembered told of a man who left his big-city office, drove two counties away and climbed in a shooting house to kill a monstrous buck that had been released into a small enclosure.
This all took place in the course of a leisurely afternoon. And the "hunter" had his "trophy" on the wall of his office a few weeks later. He and the people he paid a large sum of money for the "hunt" repeated the exercise as his desire to adorn his wall grew over time.
This repugnant practice drove the adoption of the regulation, and demonstrates how inextricably linked the issues of disease, fair chase and other concerns surrounding captive wildlife really are.
A July 2014 Indy Star newspaper article titled "Missouri Veto Resonates Through Captive Deer Hunting Industry" stated, "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon last week dealt a blow to the deer breeding and fenced hunting industry in what’s being called a bellwether case in the national debate over how to regulate a practice linked to the spread of disease.
"Nixon vetoed legislation that would have transferred oversight of the state’s deer breeders from wildlife officials to Missouri’s agriculture department.
"‘Whitetail deer are wildlife, and they are also a game animal,’ Nixon wrote in his veto message. ‘Putting them behind a fence does not change that fact.’"
The Star article continued, "Operators of fenced-hunting ranches want to be regulated by agricultural officials to avoid tighter rules proposed by wildlife agencies. Many state wildlife agencies are concerned about the risk of spreading disease, especially the always-fatal deer ailment known as chronic wasting disease, as deer are shipped across state lines to be killed in the private preserves."
Once again, Alabama is ahead of lots of others. Through the years, there have been serious attempts by powerful special interests to move authority for regulating captive wildlife from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture and Industries. Each attempt has failed, in no small part due to the wise reluctance of Agriculture Commissioners, past and present, to buy into such misguided public policy.
Alabama was one of the first states to pass a law prohibiting canned hunts. In 2006, the Alabama Legislature, acting in response to outcry from the mainstream hunting community against web-based canned hunts, passed a bill making it unlawful to hunt or kill, or offer the opportunity to hunt or kill, game animals under conditions in which the animal does not have a reasonable opportunity to evade the hunter.
The statute further prohibits hunting or killing or offering the opportunity to hunt or kill any tame game animal, and reads, "The promise or guarantee of, or contract for, killing an individual tame game animal, shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this article."
Also in response to concern from the mainstream hunting community, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources later moved to close hunting within any enclosure capable of confining deer, where: "1) There exists or has existed any manmade point of access that allows deer to enter the enclosure, but restricts their ability to exit the enclosure, including, but not limited to, any manmade ramp, platform, funnel, maze or one-way gate; or 2) any bait has been placed so as to lure deer through any man-made opening into any such completed enclosure." The regulation closes the deer season for a period of 2 years after such devices are removed or such conditions no longer exist.
Maybe Alabama has historically been a little ahead of most because of the early, successful efforts to re-establish deer populations setting the state up to be among the first to deal with deer-related issues. Whatever the case, Alabama, acting through the elected members of the Legislature and through the authority granted by the Legislature to the Conservation Commissioner to promulgate rules and regulations for the best interest of the conservation and protection of wild game, has historically been a leader in protecting native deer populations and the best interests of hundreds of thousands of deer hunters.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.