Texas Senate Taking a Closer Look at Deer Industry
By State Senator Craig Estes
Texas deer breeding operations are a growing, vitally necessary component to our diversified rural economic development. Most Texans may only be aware of a deer industry relating to hunting, but not aware that deer breeding is not too dissimilar to other agricultural operations involving livestock. While raising deer is not the same as raising cattle, there are similar issues with proper land management, fencing, nutrition, and health and welfare.
The Texas deer breeding industry provides an economic benefit of $652 million in support of more than 7,000 jobs, according to a recent study by Texas A&M University. Similar studies in other states such as Minnesota and Pennsylvania have reached similar conclusions that private deer breeding operations provides a net economic impact, that often benefits rural areas, which are dependent on new, innovative approaches to job creation and economic development.
Seeing this trend, the Texas Senate is conducting three separate legislative reviews directly affecting the deer breeding industry. Leading the study in two of these areas is the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs, and Coastal Resources, on which I serve as Chairman. From these studies, we hope to determine the need for specific legislation to address barriers facing the industry.
First, the subcommittee will study the economic impacts and consequences of allowing whitetail deer raised on deer farms in Texas to be legally processed for venison. And, second, study the interstate shipping issues with venison from other states currently faced by Texas restaurant suppliers.
In addition to the Senate committee reviews, Senate Bill 573 established the Select Interim Committee to Study the Practice of Breeding White-Tailed and Mule Deer. I have been chosen by the Lieutenant Governor to be one of the Senate appointees to this select committee, and I look forward to working on these issues.
While the work of the subcommittee is still in progress, some early information would indicate that promoting the processing of venison should add to the net positive impact already provided by the industry. Nearly 80 percent of the commercially available venison in this country is provided by New Zealand, which is also the primary supplier for European markets. This foreign market share represents a large domestic growth opportunity to meet an existing demand. Furthermore, just as Texas agricultural products flow across the globe, I have no doubt that a well-established Texas deer industry could become a leading American exporter for venison.
Our reviews have also revealed that one of the main obstacles facing interstate shipping of venison may be in the supply within other states. There is very little federal law governing the deer industry, leaving the issue to be regulated by the various states. Most states, as does Texas, considers its native deer population to be the property of the state and placed under the management of a statewide agency such as the Parks and Wildlife Department. Without specific state authority to grant private management of deer for commercial purposes, the availability of domestically commercially raised deer will be limited.
As these legislative studies conclude and the Texas Legislature moves forward on any action specific to the deer industry, we must keep in our minds that wildlife management is still one of the primary goals of our laws regulating the commercialization of otherwise native wildlife species. I believe the Texas Deer Association are good partners in conservation and wildlife management, and will continue to be a growing segment of our economy in providing commercially derived deer products.
Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) is Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs, and Coastal Resources, and represents Senate District 30 comprised of Archer, Baylor, Clay, Cooke, part of Collin, part of Denton, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Shackelford, Stephens, Throckmorton, Wilbarger, Wise, Wichita, and Young counties.