Minnesota Deer Farmers Challenge State Regulations in Lawsuit Over New Farm Moratorium

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota deer farmers have filed a lawsuit against the state over a moratorium on new deer farms. In the case of Minnesota Deer Farmers Association, Et Al. v. The State of Minnesota, Et Al., the plaintiffs are seeking relief from new regulations enforced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Deer farmers breed deer for various purposes, such as selling venison, antlers, or even the deer themselves. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there are currently 3,325 deer spread across 125 farms in the state. However, this number has dropped significantly from 274 deer farms in 2017, as stated in the lawsuit.

These deer farms have come under scrutiny from legislators due to concerns over chronic waste disease (CWD). CWD is a fatal neurological disease that spreads among animals through contact with contaminated body fluids or tissue. While it is unclear if humans can become infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlight the importance of prevention measures.

Although CWD exists in wild deer populations in Minnesota, the number of cases in 2023 was relatively low. Steps have been taken to contain the disease, including testing and measures to separate farmed and wild deer. Additionally, certified veterinarians conduct annual herd inspections and specific fencing requirements are in place to contain the deer.

In 2023, legislators passed a bill aimed at curbing the spread of CWD by placing restrictions on deer farms in Minnesota. These new regulations prohibit the opening of new deer farms in the state and limit the transfer of captive white-tailed deer to immediate family members only.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a deer hunter from Roseville. Becker-Finn emphasized her concern for the safety of her family, stating, “The idea that deer who are infected with CWD… would not be safe for my family to eat. That is my biggest fear.”

However, the Minnesota deer farmers have filed a lawsuit against the state, referring to the legislation as a “nightmare of a bill.” The plaintiffs, who are white-tailed deer farmers and members of the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association, argue that there is no direct evidence linking CWD in wild deer to farmed deer, therefore lacking justification for the state law.

The lawsuit contends that the restrictions impede the plaintiffs’ ability to pursue their profession as white-tailed deer farmers, framing them as efforts to eradicate the occupation in Minnesota. Moreover, the plaintiffs argue that the state’s seizure and destruction of illegally possessed farmed deer constitutes an “uncompensated taking” of private property under both federal and state Takings Clause.

In addition, the plaintiffs allege that the state has discriminated against deer farmers who do not have immediate family members. While deer owners can transfer their deer to family members, they are unable to do so to nonregistered, nonfamily owners.

The plaintiffs are requesting the court to enjoin the enforcement of these regulations, provide compensation, award damages, and cover the costs of attorney fees. They have also demanded a jury trial to resolve the matter.

In essence, Minnesota deer farmers are challenging the state’s restrictions on their profession, arguing that there is insufficient evidence linking farmed deer to the spread of CWD in wild populations. They assert that these regulations represent an unconstitutional taking of their private property. The outcome of this lawsuit will have significant implications for the future of deer farming in Minnesota.