PEER renews debate over Miss. deer enclosures

By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — A legislative committee and the state wildlife agency are renewing a long-standing debate over the regulation of high-fence enclosures for white-tail deer.

The Legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee in a report released April 19 renewed the argument from many lawmakers that the wildlife agency has no authority under law to regulate the enclosures.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has regulated private enclosures since 2008, sparking a debate that has raged off and on ever since.

The department estimates that at present, about 18,000 deer — including native, exotic, and nonnative species — live within enclosures in Mississippi.

Sam Polles, the MDWFP executive director, said in response to the PEER committee criticism said the two sides must “agree to disagree.” Polles said state law recognizes that such enclosures exist and handed regulatory responsibility over to the MDWFP.

Polles said the dismantling of more than 100 enclosures would require legislative action that has not been forthcoming.

Sen. Giles Ward, R-Louisville, chairman of the Senate Wildlife Committee, said he will go through the PERR report, which he said he received this week.

“There have been a lot of discussions. We’ve learned there’s more than one side to this story,” Ward said.

Ward said he has been satisfied with reports on the program from MWFP biologists and personnel assigned to it.

“I think they have been meeting their responsibility. But as we dig into this deeper, we could run into thing that may make me change that position,” Ward said.

Lawmakers have registered several complaints about the enclosures, including that they cut off access to the white-tail deer. The public trust doctrine holds that all animals belong to the public, officials said.

“It is the position of the MDWFP that enclosing deer behind a high fence does not transfer ownership of a public trust asset or the statute would not authorize the MDWFP to regulate these facilities,” Polles said.

PEER argues in turn that state law does not specifically permit the conversion of wildlife from public to private resources to be confined and hunted in enclosures.

“In view of the fact that the state owns such deer for the use and benefit of its citizens, there is considerable doubt as to whether the state could legalize such enclosures,” PEER said.

PEER said the MDWFP should adopt a policy that “should address the removal of white-tailed deer from enclosures that are not established for the specific purposes provided for in statute.”

Polles said for the agency to do so “could have the unintended consequence of boiling over into other areas of conflict between public resources and private property rights.”

Polles has said the enclosures are inspected each month to determine what’s inside. The landowners are not allowed to charge, but agency officials have said they suspect there are some who are charging for hunts.

To receive a permit for the enclosure, a landowner must have 300 contiguous acres. The regulation allows for breeding pens.

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