The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is using a careless hunter to illustrate a point about controlling chronic wasting disease.
The agency recently filed a lawsuit against a Kentucky resident for importing a deer head into the state that tested positive for chronic wasting disease. The agency seeks approximately $1,900 in damages from the hunter. The KDFW says that amount represents the department's costs of investigating, testing, prosecuting and disposing of the infected carcass parts as outlined and permitted in Kentucky law.
On May 8, the KDFW released a statement on the matter. The release says that Nicholas J. Behringer, 47, of Louisville, Ky., legally killed an 8-point buck while hunting in Wisconsin. As does the Arkansas Wildlife Code, Kentucky's wildlife code prohibits importing unprocessed deer and elk carcasses across state lines. Meat must be separated from the bones. Heads and antlers must be converted to taxidermy before they can cross state lines. Skull plates must be sanitized.
Behringer acknowledged violating a state regulation prohibiting illegally importing the deer head from another state. He paid a $50 fine plus court costs in Shelby County District Court on Jan. 3.
Because the deer came from a state with a long established history of chronic wasting disease, KDFW officials had the deer head tested for CWD. It tested positive.
According to the KDFW release, no deer or elk harvested or occurring otherwise in Kentucky has ever tested positive for CWD. The infected Wisconsin deer parts were contained and frozen in transport and storage, so they were not exposed to the atmosphere, terrain or to people or wildlife.
The tone of the KDFW's release reads as an "I told you so." For anybody that kills a cervid outside of the state, by golly, you'd better know the law if you don't want to end up like this guy.
For example, the KDFW unequivocally explained that Behringer killed his buck legally in Wisconsin. He got in trouble by failing to process his deer in compliance with Kentucky law.
"In doing so, he violated a state regulation that prohibits the importation of deer carcasses or 'high-risk parts' that have potentially infectious tissue," the KDFW's release said.
"That regulation was put in place because of concerns surrounding chronic wasting disease, the highly infectious and fatal neurological disease affecting deer, elk and other cervids," the release continued. "To date, Kentucky is one of 20 states that has never had an animal test positive for CWD. Wisconsin has long dealt with the disease, and the state documented its first case of CWD more than 20 years ago.
In other words, we tried and tried to tell you. Now maybe you'll pay attention.
It is also interesting that the KDFW mentioned this being the first time that that Kentucky has sought civil damages against a hunter for importing a diseased carcass. Having spent a significant part of my career writing news releases for a state wildlife management agency, I assure you that the words are strategic and tactical. Kentucky tacitly acknowledges that hunters have done this before with relative impunity. The KDFW has tried and failed to prevent it with the public education route, so now they're going to make it a bit more painful. It's the first time they've sought civil damages. It won't be the last.
In 2012, when Arkansas was still confident that CWD didn't exist here, an Arkansas game warden stopped Troy Landry of the popular "Swamp People" television show near Monticello. Landry was hauling a truckload of buck carcasses that he and his companions had killed in Nebraska. Landry pleaded ignorance. It didn't fly.
The Game and Fish Commission's CWD management plan not only prohibits importing unprocessed deer carcasses from out of state, but it also prohibits transporting unprocessed deer carcasses from the CWD management zones into non-management zones.
An obvious question is if the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will seek civil damages from hunters that flout our state's CWD regulations. Like Kentucky, the AGFC has tried everything else, but CWD inexorably marches across the state. Of course, CWD is here because it was brought here, most likely in elk transplanted from Colorado to the Ozarks, but it has spread because people have transported it over distances.
Kentucky's situation sets a precedent. Don't be surprised when the AGFC makes a similar example of somebody here.