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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

New Fla immigration debate:Secure the borders - against deer



News Service of Florida:

Senate President Don Gaetz and two other Panhandle lawmakers this week urged the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to approve a ban on importing deer from out of state, amid concerns about the spread of a disease that can be fatal to the animals.

Last month, Gaetz, his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Sen. Greg Evers asked the commission to wait for more evidence of the impact of Chronic Wasting Disease. The panel postponed a decision on a ban until its September meeting.

But now the lawmakers say the risk is too great.

"Please accept this letter as acknowledgement that the scientific case for closing the border is stronger than we had originally understood," they wrote Monday to FWC Chairman Kenneth Wright. "We now believe that moving forward with (the ban) is the prudent course of action."

Chronic Wasting Disease is similar to Mad Cow Disease and is fatal to deer. If a deer is found with the disease, the entire population --- fee-ranging or farmed --- must be eradicated to prevent it from spreading.

Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association, which backs the ban, says the disease could wipe out all the state's deer.

"Some folks say it's manageable. It's not manageable," Hammer said. "Why should you wait to try to manage something when you can take action to prevent getting it in the first place?"

But opponents of the ban said the move is unnecessary.

"I think it's a shame," said Chris Winsey, president of the Southeast Trophy Deer Association. "We're just being prejudiced toward the deer versus any other animal that's being moved in our state."

"They don't have enough data to close the border," said Mike Vizcaino, a deer farmer in the St. Augustine area. "If these guys were really afraid of CWD, they would be promoting a statewide testing requirement rather than closing the borders."

Vizcaino said the ban had been pushed by importers who are stocking up on deer now "so they can set the prices" once the ban goes into effect. "This is all about money."

Currently, to reduce chances of the disease entering Florida, the state bans deer from being imported from those states and Canadian provinces where infected deer have been found. The ban also prohibits deer killed in those areas from being brought into Florida unless they have first been deboned or treated and mounted by taxidermists outside the state.

The state also requires that imported deer come from herds that have been certified disease-free for five years. Opponents of the ban have recommended the state consider doubling that time frame.

At last month's commission meeting, deer farmers and game ranchers said closing the border would increase the risk of the disease turning up in Florida. They predicted an increase in smuggling to keep up with the demand for deer available for hunting.

"I believe this decision is probably going to cripple the (deer) industry in Florida," Winsey said. "It's a shame how we continue to discriminate against people in agriculture."

But Hammer said the disease is so deadly that if it spread to Florida, deer hunting would become too dangerous to continue.

"If we got Chronic Wasting Disease in the state of Florida, I'd never eat another piece of venison," she said. "The risk is too great. So we need to take the steps that are best to prevent ever getting the disease to begin with."

The disease is not known to affect people.

Backers of the ban include not only the NRA but the Florida Wildlife Federation, United Sportsmen of Florida, Florida Deer Association, Florida Zoo Association and the Humane Society.

Hammer wants the commission to schedule an emergency meeting to hasten the start of the ban, but FWC spokesman Tony Young said Tuesday that wasn't necessary.

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 9:00pm]


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