Farmer fights state on

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(Host) A Northeast Kingdom farmer is fighting a state rule that he says unfairly restricts his business of raising elk and deer.

But part of his business involves charging people a fee to shoot the animals. And the state is opposed to these kinds of "captive hunting" operations.

VPR’s John Dillon takes a look at the controversy.

(Dillon) Doug Nelson is a successful dairy farmer who started raising elk in the 1990s to diversify his operation.

When the elk get old, Nelson says he was faced with taking them to a slaughter house or shooting them himself.

He says he made the more humane choice and lets hunters kill the animals.

(Nelson) "And that elk gets up, the sun’s shining. You can see his breath. And he’s thinking this is the greatest day of my life. And he wakes up dead. That’s like dying in your sleep."

(Dillon) The elk are fenced-in on 700 acres in Derby along with white tailed deer and moose.

State wildlife officials have long had concerns about the hunting aspect of Nelson’s operation. And many sportsmen don’t think Nelson’s business involves hunting at all. They say it should be called shooting, not hunting, since the animals are in a confined area.

The state is also worried about the spread of disease from Nelson’s herd to the wild population. Biologists are especially concerned about Chronic Wasting Disease, an incurable illness that’s in the same family as Mad Cow Disease.

Stephen Hill is general counsel for the Fish and Wildlife Department.

(Hill) "And it’s not just Chronic Wasting Disease. It’s tuberculosis. There are others, if they get into the wild deer herd, not only do they impact management of the wildlife resource and the income that comes into the state because of that, but they could have a significant adverse impact on the dairy industry."

(Dillon) So the state has proposed new rules that would severely restrict these so-called canned hunts. The rule bans shooting deer and moose inside fences. The rule does still allow Nelson’s elk business but it prohibits new captive hunting operations.

But Nelson lawyers told a legislative committee that the new rule goes too far.

Attorney Brooke Dingeldine said the section that bans the shooting of moose and deer will eliminate half of Nelson’s business. And she objected to a provision that allows the Fish and Wildlife Commissioner to shut down the operation if there’s a disease threat. She said the commissioner will use that section to revoke the permit.

(Dingeldine) "That can’t be allowed. You can’t give this much power to the commissioner to just make the rules of the game up as he goes along."

(Dillon) Members of the committee on administrative rules appeared sympathetic to both sides of the argument. They tabled the rule and asked the Fish and Wildlife department to work with Nelson to try to find a compromise.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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