AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - Two deer breeders accuse Texas of passing emergency rules that unfairly target the captive-bred deer industry and in violation of open-meeting rules.
Ken Bailey and Bradly Peterson sued the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, executive director Carter Smith, wildlife division director Clayton Wolf, and big game program director Mitch Lockwood on Oct. 1 in Travis County court.
The plaintiffs are deer breeders who selectively market white-tailed deer, and both say they have had buyers back out of agreements to purchase deer because of the Parks and Wildlife Department's emergency regulatory scheme.
The department estimates there are 3.9 million deer in Texas, with 160,000 of those being captive-bred.
Bailey and Peterson say they have invested extensive amounts of money, time and energy into the captive-bred deer industry, also called the farmed-deer industry.
According to the complaint, "Plaintiffs' industry relies on two main types of activities: (a) the selective breeding and marketing of privately owned white-tailed deer for a desirable genetic characteristic-namely, giant 'trophy' antler racks; and (b) 'destination' hunting on spacious, privately owned reserves, where hunters might pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of hunting and taking trophy bucks, paying a premium for those with the largest antler racks as measured by commonly used scoring standards."
Bailey and Peterson say they have a "vested interest" in keeping their captive-bred deer healthy since they are collectively worth millions of dollars. They say their deer are usually healthier than wild deer because the deer do not have to compete for food, their lineage is tracked and they receive regular veterinary care.
Deer breeding helps prevent an imbalance in the deer population because bucks with large antler racks have historically been targeted by Texas hunters, the men say.
The complaint says the central issue in the case is whether captive-bred deer are the property of the breeder or the state. In 2005, the Parks and Wildlife Department asked the Texas Attorney General for an opinion on the scope of its authority over captive-bred deer, but it later withdrew the request.
Bailey and Peterson say an outbreak of chronic wasting disease at one deer breeder's facility this year is the cause of the dispute. The disease afflicts the central nervous system of cervids such as deer and elk.
"The defendants decided that the discovery of chronic wasting disease in one area of the state in June justified the emergency shutdown of the entire industry, across the state, on the eve of the marketing, sale, and transport of captive-bred deer in advance of the opening of the Texas deer-hunting season," the complaint says.
Parks and Wildlife implemented a ban on the transfer of captive-bred deer when it shut down the computer application process that allows licensed deer breeders to obtain permits to transport their deer.
The department "railroaded through emergency rules, without notice and comment rule-making, that effectively place a stranglehold on the transportation of captive-bred deer," the complaint says.
"The process by which the defendants put together the emergency rules was steeped in secrecy," the breeders claim. A "purely advisory" taskforce in which "defendant Smith engaged in one-on-one communications with a number of current and 'emeritus' members of the Parks and Wildlife Commission" was used to circumvent quorum requirements of the Texas Open Meetings Act, they say.