Runaways from deer farm face death sentence from state wildlife officials
- Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Plain Dealer Reporter
Huntsburg Township- Joe Byler overlooked the open gate at his Geauga County farm. His animals didn't.
Seven trophy whitetailed deer being raised by Byler meandered out of their suddenly not-so-fenced-in pen on April 26. It may prove to be a fatal escape. State wildlife officials intend to shoot and kill any runaways that Byler fails to round up within the next few days.
Three remained on the lam as of Monday afternoon. Byler managed to recapture the other big money bucks last week with the help of friends.
"All we need is more time," Byler said.
He won't get much.
The concern is chronic wasting disease entering Ohio, said Dan Kramer, a state wildlife management supervisor in Northeast Ohio. The neurological disorder afflicting deer and elk has been detected among captive and wild herds in 14 states, including West Virginia.
Byler's wayward deer need to be checked for the disease since they may be mixing with wild deer, Kramer said. An animal must be killed to be tested.
"We'll err on the side of caution," Kramer said.
That's overkill, Byler said.
The three bucks still out roaming were born and raised on Byler's Clay Street farm, and have never left Ohio. Byler said he can't remember the last time he imported a deer from out of state to add to the small herd at Tare Creek Whitetails.
"My deer are not diseased, no, they're not," Byler said. "It's just an excuse for them."
Byler said he stands to lose a minimum of $42,000 - the amount another breeder previously agreed to pay for two of the escaped deer - if the state kills the animals. "That's a big hit for a little farm," said Byler, who owns 22 deer.
Captive deer are selectively bred to grow the sprawling antlers coveted by hunters; many of the animals ultimately end up at game preserves. Ohio has more than 300 deer farms and 9,500 deer being raised in captivity, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture.
Byler is hopeful that he will be able to nab the missing bucks - identifiable by ear tags - before the state sends out sharpshooters. He placed bait to lure the tame-as-a-cow animals to a spot where they can be shot with a tranquilizer gun and safely returned to their pens.
In the meantime, he's working on adding a spring-close system to the pen's gate to keep it from staying open.
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