Tuesday, June 02, 2009

TEXAS NEWS: New Law Allows Farmers to Hunt Deer All Year

A bill aimed at reducing damage to crops by limiting whitetail deer in fields was signed into law on Friday by Gov. Rick Perry. Authored by state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, House Bill 1965 was the culmination of several years of work initiated by Concho Valley farmers.

When an increased deer population nibbled away an estimated 60 percent of the 2005 cotton crop across the Lipan Flats east of San Angelo, Tom Green County Farm Bureau members voted to send a resolution to the annual state convention asking for help to save the 2006 cotton crop.

Long story short, the Waco-based Texas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm and ranch organization, endorsed the issue and brought the deer problem to the attention of the Texas Legislature. After some wrestling, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department established a pilot program to allow farmers to shoot grazing deer out of season with a special permit.

Gene Gully, a Lipan Flats cotton grower and past president of Tom Green County Farm Bureau, said only two farmers registered to participate in the test pilot program in 2005. He said the farmers were required to give the venison to needy folks or food-handling charities. The biggest problem with that, he said, was field-dressing the harvested animals in hot weather and finding a cooler for the carcass while locating people who wanted the meat.

Gully said the deer problem was twice as bad in summers with the dry weather driving them to anything green. He said the irrigated cotton was the deer’s major target on his farm near Mereta, about 15 miles east of San Angelo, until a neighbor’s maize started heading out. “They like maize better than cotton,” he said.

Farmers in eastern Tom Green and western Concho counties are excited about the pilot program becoming permanent, Gully told me on Monday. “The new law will allow the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to immediately begin issuing permits to control the deer,” he said. “No one wants to eradicate the deer. We just want to control them by limiting their access to our fields.”

Gully said farmers will be allowed to harvest deer year-round that are destroying crops, provided they don’t waste the carcass. In turn, farmers are determined to find ways to work with meat processors to save the venison.

“This legislation will remove some of the more cumbersome and unnecessary aspects of the current permitting process for controlling wildlife, and would authorize the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission to develop new criteria for the program,” Darby said.

Sutton Page of San Angelo, Texas Farm Bureau field representative for the Concho Valley and the Big Country, said some cotton farmers with fields that border pastureland resorted to building high fences around their cotton fields several years ago.

“Although the high fencing has helped to keep deer out of some cotton fields, it is very expensive and in many situations only allows the deer to double up on neighboring fields not fenced,” Page said.

Darby said the wildlife bill drew support from not only the Texas Farm Bureau, but also the Texas Wildlife Association, the Exotic Wildlife Association and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Source: Go San Angelo

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