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Deer Disease Takes Center Stage in Battle Over Hunting Preserves

A decadelong debate over deer hunting preserves in Indiana is turning its focus to whether those preserves create a risk of disease.

Opponents have branded the fenced-in preserves "canned hunting." The Department of Natural Resources is appealing a court ruling which blocked a DNR regulation to end the practice. Supporters of existing preserves have tried repeatedly to override that rule in the legislature.

Those debates have often pitted rival hunting and conservation groups against each other to debate whether fenced-in hunting is sporting or humane. But a legislative study committee is gathering information on another argument made by opponents: that the hunting preserves and deer farms which supply them are breeding grounds for chronic wasting disease.

More than 20 states have lost deer to chronic wasting disease, often in large numbers. Bryan Richards with the U.S. Geological Survey warns the disease spreads rapidly, especially in so-called captive breeding facilities.

Indiana already bans importing deer from states with reported cases of CWD. Kip Adams with the Quality Deer Management Association, a deer hunters' conservation group, says legislators should extend that ban to imports from any state. There's no test for CWD -- it doesn't become apparent until symptoms appear, and Adams warns importing deer gives the disease a foothold in new territory.

Milroy veterinarian and former state senator Bob Jackman argues the disease is primarily media hype. He says he's never seen one case in nearly half a century in practice. And Jackman says if CWD does surface in Indiana, veterinarians are up to the task of containing it.

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