Prominent Minnesota deer farmer Steve Porter says he’ll keep his commitment to show three monster bucks at the Minnesota Sportsmen’s Show in defiance of an emergency rule that temporarily bans the movement of all farmed deer in the state.
The former sheriff of Kittson County said he’ll fight the misdemeanor charge he received Tuesday after trailering the animals from his ranch near Lake Bronson to St. Paul’s RiverCentre for the four-day gathering that begins Thursday. DNR enforcement officers ticketed him when he arrived.
“What type of rule is this for me not to conduct and fulfill my contract?’’ Porter said in an interview. “I have to fight this thing on principle because they are trying to kill my business.’’
Col. Rodmen Smith, enforcement division chief at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said Porter was warned that there’s no exceptions to the emergency rule. It was imposed Dec. 23 for at least a month to protect Minnesota’s wild deer from further spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD). The misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.
“If he does bring a deer, he’ll be in violation of state law,’’ Smith said Monday.
The DNR’s top cop also said that the Sportsmen’s Show, in its 50th year and expecting as many as 20,000 visitors, has been informed it will have illegal deer in the show if Porter’s trophy bucks are allowed as an attraction. The case has the attention of DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen. One of her assistant commissioners, Bob Meier, has spoken directly to Porter.
“I don’t like to speculate as to what we’ll do,’’ Smith said before the ticket was issued.
Barry Cenaiko, the show’s manager, declined to comment. He’s been promoting Porter’s freakishly antlered whitetails as a highlight of this year’s gathering. The pen-reared bucks, with names such as Heart Attack and Typhoon, have been delighting Sportsmen’s Show visitors for more than a dozen years.
Minnesota’s approximately 335 deer and elk farms are regulated by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health. But when the five governors of that agency declined recently to act on a recommendation to temporarily prohibit any shipment of captive deer, the DNR invoked an emergency ban. The rule is scheduled to expire Jan. 29.
The agency said the state needs the temporary freeze to evaluate the latest outbreak of CWD detected in an 8-year-old white-tailed doe on a hobby farm in Douglas County. DNR is working with the Board of Animal Health to trace the past movements of deer to and from the farm to search for other diseased deer. For the time being, any potentially diseased deer related to the hobby farm can’t spread CWD to a new area.
The DNR already is monitoring for CWD in other parts of the state where the always-fatal animal disease has been discovered.
Prions, the infectious agent causing the disease, are shed by CWD-positive deer or elk in urine, saliva, blood, feces, muscle and antler velvet. Transmission can occur animal-to-animal or from prions left on feeding areas, plants or other surfaces.
Since the fall of 2016, a total of 75 Minnesota wild deer have been confirmed as positive for the disease. Previously, only one wild deer was found to be infected. Porter said he cares deeply about stopping the spread of CWD. To that end, he long ago stopped buying deer and moving them to his farm. For 15 years now, he said, he and his children have maintained a “closed’’ herd with no trace of CWD. The farm breeds trophy bucks, displays them at outdoors shows, hosts whitetail hunts for a fee and sells deer urine.
He said moving his deer to St. Paul inside their show trailer presents no risk because they never leave the trailer, they don’t contact other deer and they return directly to their enclosure at Lake Bronson.
Porter said sports shows — including four he booked this month — are the “center hub’’ of his business. Besides creating revenue, the shows help him promote his products. He called the DNR a “rogue agency’’ acting outside of its authority.
“How in the world can they create a system that doesn’t allow me to fulfill my contracts?’’ Porter said. “It’s just, ‘No, you’re done. We are going to bankrupt you.’ ’’
Smith said the DNR has heard from other deer farmers who have not been able to fulfill certain contracts.
“There’s no room for any exceptions,’’ he said.
He said the DNR consulted with the state Attorney General’s Office and the Minnesota Revisor of Statutes before invoking the emergency rule.
The ban is meant to protect the state’s invaluable population of wild whitetail deer from the continued spread of CWD. If the disease gets out of control, it could threaten the state’s keystone hunting tradition — one that sparks the rural economy every year and is crucial to deer population control.
Porter said that when he takes his case to court, he might subpoena DNR Commissioner Strommen to answer questions.
“Almost 30 years protecting victims of crime and now I’m raising livestock deer ... and they say they are going to make me into a criminal,’’ Porter said.