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US Attorney charges Alabama deer breeder for illegal transportation of whitetail deer

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

The  U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama today charged a licensed Alabama deer breeder and his associate for illegally transporting captive-bred and raised whitetail deer from a facility in Indiana to his deer breeder facility in Alabama.

U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Chief of Enforcement Michael Weathers announced the charge in a statement.

Lewis H. Skinner, 56, and Franklin Banks Loden, 56, were each arrested and charged  with knowingly transporting and receiving whitetail deer in interstate commerce according to the police.

Prosecutors also filed a plea agreement with Skinner and Loden in the U.S. District Court.

According to the plea agreement, Skinner owned and controlled all activities occurring on Skinner Farms, a private deer breeding business in Sumter County.  Skinner had a deer breeder permit from the state of Alabama and knew that Alabama is a “closed border” state that prohibits importing deer.

According to the plea agreement, Skinner surrendered his Alabama Game Breeders License and agreed not to participate in the commercial deer breeder industry in the future. Skinner also agreed to pay a $100,000 fine, which shall be directed to the Lacey Act Reward Fund, and $650,000 in restitution to the State of Alabama.

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The two men admitted in the plea agreement that in November 2016 Skinner arranged for Loden to move six captive-bred whitetail deer covertly from Indiana to Skinner Farms in Alabama. Law enforcement stopped Loden and seized the deer in Tuscaloosa.

Investigators determined that some of these illegally transported deer were lacking the required identification for the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Herd Certification Program. The deer in question, fawns from a previously certified herd, rendered the farm and other deer disqualified from the program because of the lack of identification. The required identification is usually in the form of a numbered ear tag or tattoo.

CWD affects the central nervous system of deer species, including whitetail deer. The disease attacks the brain of an infected animal causing it to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, and die. CWD is infectious, communicable and 100 percent fatal.

Chief Weathers said, “The illegal transport of deer from outside the State of Alabama by a licensed deer breeder motivated solely by profit places our entire whitetail deer herd at risk of this fatal disease.  The charge and plea agreement in this case are evidence of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division’s steadfast dedication to protecting the wildlife resources of the State of Alabama.”

As noted in the plea agreement, Skinner is submitting all captive whitetail deer held in his deer breeder facility to be tested for the presence of CWD.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division investigated the case in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry Cornelius is prosecuting the case.

While Alabama has the highest population density of whitetail deer in the country, hunters sometimes claim that Midwestern deer are bigger.  Sometimes hunting ranches seek to improve the size of the deer and increase the number of points on the antlers by importing genetics from captive herds that are seen to be more desirable than the deer that are native to the ranch.

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Although Indiana is not a known CWD infected state, CWD is increasingly common among wild deer in large areas of Southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.  Michigan has found CWD in both captive herds and in wild deer populations.  Ohio has found CWD in captive deer herds.  Biologists think that captive herds may be more susceptible to the disease because they are typically in a much higher population density than wild deer.

CWD was first discovered at a mule deer research facility in Colorado in the late 1960s.  Since then it has spread to much of the U.S. and Canada often by transporting deer, often to captive herds.  CWD is a Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) or prion disease, similar to scrapie, which is found in domestic sheep.  It is theorized that the two may be related.  ‘Mad Cow Disease’ in cattle and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans are the best known TSEs.  There is no known effective treatment or vaccine for any of the prion diseases.

Alabama is a CWD free state at this time, assuming the Skinner Farm herd is found to be CWD free.

To learn more about Chronic Wasting Disease in deer:

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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