Oh deer, what a problem
Berrien County, Michigan DNR at odds over fate of exotic animals.
Tribune Staff WriterST. JOSEPH -- Berrien County is in a catfight with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources over two fallow deer.The DNR wants the animals, which are not native to North America, euthanized so they can be tested for bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.DNR officials say under state law the county is committing a felony by not killing the deer to test for the disease.
By law captive wildlife animals that have been running loose must be killed within 48 hours of their capture.The county's animal control department, meanwhile, which has been holding the exotic animals for nine months, wants to keep them alive. Or, at the very least, the county wants the DNR -- if it insists on killing the deer -- to reimburse the county the $900 feeding costs the county has shelled out to care for the deer.
A private owner, from Chicago, believed to be living in Benton Township originally bought five fallow deer from Deer Forest Fun Park, a Coloma tourist attraction.The deer, which resemble goats, are sometimes mistaken for baby white-tailed deer, said Dan Atherton, who is caring for the deer at his Watervliet farm for the county's animal control department.The fallow deer reportedly escaped nearly two years ago from their owner's Benton Township estate and had been roaming neighborhoods in Fairplain for more than a year, said Val Grimes, manager of Berrien County's Animal Control Center.After fielding dozens of calls last summer from Fairplain residents who spotted three of the deer in Fairplain's Target and Lowe's parking lots, the county was on a mission to capture them, said Grimes. Two of the original five deer were hit by cars.One simply disappeared.
Animal control officers finally caught two of the deer, a buck and a doe, last August when the deer got caught in a homeowner's backyard fence, said Grimes."The problem we're facing is these deer wandered around Benton Township for several months and became the area's attraction," said Grimes."They weren't afraid to walk in the middle of the street, one time they were heading down Napier (Avenue)," said Grimes. "We would receive two or three phone calls a week from residents telling us the deer were here and there," she said.
In February, Grimes said she was shocked to receive a letter from the DNR asking why Grimes hadn't sent the DNR the deer heads so they could be tested for diseases.Grimes said she wrote back to the DNR saying the deer are alive and are being kept in a horse stall. A few weeks ago, the state's attorney general wrote a letter to the county's lawyer R. "Mac" McKinley Elliott, pointing out all the laws the county is violating by holding on to the deer."By law you have to have a permit to hold deer or elk in Michigan and the county doesn't have a permit," said Shannon Hanna, special projects coordinator for the state's DNR Wildlife Division.Hanna said the deer can't be returned to Deer Forest Fun Park or its original owner because the deer have been running loose and could spread diseases to deer herds in the area.
Furthermore, Hanna said neither the original owner or Deer Forest has a permit to keep exotic deer captive.Mary Dettloff, public information officer for the DNR in Lansing, said the main issue is to keep the state's wildlife and captive animals disease-free. The county says the DNR is worrying about something that has never occurred in Michigan -- chronic wasting disease.
Dettloff said it's true that chronic wasting disease has not been found in Michigan's cattle or wildlife. And the state wants to keep it that way."We don't know what the origin of those deer are," said Dettloff.
They may have been imported from a southern state that raises exotic animals and perhaps that state has had animals that carry chronic wasting disease, she said."If it would get in the wild deer herd in Michigan it would be a devastating blow," Dettloff said. "We want to keep the disease out, which is why they need to be tested," she said.
Staff writer Carol Draeger: email@example.com (269) 687-7005
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