In response to concerns regarding the intentional release of captive-raised deer into the wild in Alabama, Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. signed an emergency regulation prohibiting the practice effective December 7.
Earlier this year, a group in central Alabama sought to enhance local deer population genetics through the introduction of commercially-raised deer from licensed Alabama game breeders. Game breeders are legally permitted to raise deer in captivity and selectively produce animals with preferred traits such as larger antlers.
These animals are normally sold to fenced hunting enclosures, which restricts their interactions with deer outside the enclosures. The new regulation does not restrict the release of captive-raised deer into hunting enclosures.
Previous Alabama law did not address the introduction of these captive-raised animals to areas outside of enclosures. While the prospect of increasing antler size through genetic augmentation is appealing to many hunters, officials with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have concerns about the practice.
“Our agency is responsible for the sustainability of the state’s wildlife resources,” said Commissioner Guy. “Therefore, we are obligated to use caution before allowing such activity to occur. Further review of this concept by the Conservation Advisory Board, which meets February 9, 2013, is warranted before taking further action on this issue.”
When the Marengo County group announced its intentions – the county is southwest of Montgomery, in south-central Alabama – the Quality Deer Management Association made this statement encouraging the group not to release any deer.
“Releasing captive-bred, farm-raised deer carries significant risks for wild deer, and that’s why QDMA opposes this project, and why it’s illegal in nearly every state,” said QDMA CEO and wildlife biologist Brian Murphy in the statement.
“I was shocked to learn that Alabama does not have a law that prevents what is being proposed in Marengo County,” Murphy said in that statement. “Across the nation, wildlife and agricultural agencies have stringent requirements to keep captive deer behind fences because of their potential risks to wild deer. Captive deer have the potential to carry diseases or parasites not present in wild populations, some of them deadly.”
Proponents of the project said they didn’t believe it was an issue, and other reports here and here gave some insight. Westervelt land company requested a meeting with Alabama DCNR officials in October, as did the Marengo folks wanting to release the bucks.
State Conservation Department officials met with both groups. As noted by the commissioner, further study of this issue is being done by members of the state’s Conservation Advisory Board, which will meet in February.