Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

April 6, 2011

Local deer farm under investigation

JACKSONVILLE — A local man who breeds and raises deer is currently being investigated by state and federal wildlife agents, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials.

5 P Farms, run from Powell Ranch on U.S. Hwy 79 North near New Summerfield, is under investigation by law enforcement for the illegal importation of at least 13 deer from another state, according to Steve Ligthfoot of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“There is a ongoing investigation, a criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed at this point,” Lightfoot said. “Right now we’re just interested in the disease aspect of it.”

Billy Powell, the owner and operator of the ranch, said he was advised not to comment on the investigation.

The disease aspect of the investigation is being conducted by officials from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department who are concerned that the imported animals may be carrying diseases like tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease.

Chronic wasting disease impacts the nervous system of deer and elk creating lesions in the brain, according to the National Wildlife Health Center, a division of the U.S. Geologic Survey.

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention article on the agency’s website states the disease affects deer in many U.S. States.

“The geographic range of diseased animals currently includes 15 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces and is likely to continue to grow,” according to article.

Lightfoot said the disease is typically not an issue in Texas. The department’s concern is that those imported deer may have brought the illness into the region.

“It’s a fatal disease, it can spread and there’s no cure for it,” he said. “In states where this has occurred, it’s pretty much severely impacted their native resources, their native deer population.”

Lightfoot said his department was contacted by federal authorities who were looking at Powell for the importation of animals over state lines.

Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department could not comment on the investigation as of Wednesday.

Federal authorities were aware of disease concerns and brought the issue to Texas Park’s attention, Lightfoot said.  

Diseases carried by imported deer have the potential to affect local deer populations around the state, he said. Biologists from Texas Parks are currently testing more than 300 deer on the farm.

“In order to minimize the risk of CWD or tuberculosis getting out into other areas of the state, those deer were euthanized and samples were sent to the Texas Veterinary Medical Lab for testing,” he said. “In the process, we’ve got to find out if the other deer they’ve co-mingled with, they’ve shared pens with, don’t also have it.”

Lightfoot said operations at some of the 1,200 deer farms in the state have ceased operations because they may have populations which were contaminated.  

Lightfoot said illegal deer importation is not a common occurrence in Texas. Over the past year, only “a handful” of cases have come to the TPWD’s attention.

“For the most part, our deer breeders adhere to the rules, they’re the ones who help us establish these rules and laws for their safety,” he said. “This is the largest one we’re dealing with right now.”

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