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Disease threatening Missouri deer

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Deer in Missouri are dying from a rare disease, and it's posing a real threat to the state's billion-dollar deer-hunting industry.

It's called chronic wasting disease, and it's killing deer and elk in Missouri.

It's become such a problem Missouri lawmakers are expected to discuss ways to keep the disease from spreading when they return from their holiday break next week.

The disease leads to degeneration of the brain. It's spread by deer-to-deer contact and through contaminated soil.

The state has just 20 confirmed cases since 2010, but is nonetheless working hard to keep those numbers from rising.

"The Missouri Department of Conservation is trying to create an issue where there are no cases," said Kelly Westfall, an area farmer and deer breeder.

Westfall breeds deer on her farm in Liberty for hunting. The Department of Conservation is proposing double fencing around her farm and hunting ranches.

At a cost of up to $100,000, Westfall said that could put her, and 250 other operations like hers, out of business.

"It's unfair because there are scavengers like crows along with other predators that eat the deer and can carry their disease, and a fence won't keep them out," Westfall told KCTV5 News.

Westfall said she does everything she can to keep her herd healthy, and additional regulations could well kill the industry.

"I think they will make it so difficult for you to continue on," Westfall said.

Aaron Jeffries, assistant to the Missouri Department of Conservation director, says they are not trying to put the deer farmers and hunting ranches out of business.

"We are looking to protect deer herds whether inside or outside fencing with common sense regulations," Jeffries said.

The Missouri Department of Conservation held a number of public meetings throughout the state over the year to discuss how to protect the 500,000 deer in the state. According to Jeffries, those meetings received a positive response.

The department is proposing double fencing to prevent the spread of CDW by reducing the chance of deer-to-deer contact and minimizing escapes. That's just one step. They are also considering better bookkeeping of a herd's health records.

Conservationists will take their recommendations to the commission. If approved, they'd be sent to the Missouri Secretary of State's office for review.

The Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association said it will ask lawmakers to declare captive deer "livestock."

That would put them under the control of the Department of Agriculture rather than the Conservation Department. For now, the Conservation Department regulates all deer in Missouri.

For more information from the Missouri Department of Conservation about chronic wasting disease, click here

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