Iowa Supreme Court Rules Against State Quarantine of Deer with CWD

Justices say state wildlife officials went 'too far' in action against breeding operation

Thursday, June 22, 2017

By Mark Carter

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled against an Iowa Department of Natural Resources quarantine of a hunting preserve where the fatal chronic wasting disease was discovered.

The ruling, issued last week and available here, upholds a district court ruling which held that the quarantine was "unjustifiable." The preserve in question is the former 330-acre Pine Ridge Hunting Lodge near Bloomfield, owned by Ronda and Tom Brakke.

The preserve was populated by whitetails bred on the Brakke's deer-breeding farm in Clear Lake.

In December 2011, a buck shot on the preserve tested positive for CWD. Ultimately, state and federal officials killed 356 of the Brakke's breeder deer, and 284 of them (80 percent) tested positive. 

State wildlife officials placed the breeding stock under a minimum five-year quarantine, believing the risk too great to move the infected deer to hunting pens. However, the Brakkes received $917,100 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as compensation for the animals that were killed, although that figure is a less than half of the $2 million Tom Brakke told the Indy Star the deer were worth.

A deer killed by CWD. (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)

Iowa's high court ruled that Iowa DNR's administrative rule triggering the five-year quarantine went too far but also ruled against a Brakke appeal for further compensation. From the ruling:

“DNR’s emergency order was irrational, illogical, and wholly unjustifiable under Iowa Code section 17A.19(10)(l) because the DNR was acting outside the legislature’s grant of authority. The court, however, rejected the landowners’ argument that the DNR’s emergency order amounted to a compensable taking under the United States and Iowa Constitutions. Upon entering its judgment, the court also refused to reopen the record to allow the DNR to present additional evidence that the landowners received certain indemnity payments from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

Iowa DNR said its intent was to prevent CWD from spreading to the wild deer herd through exposed soil on site. Its statement in response to the ruling:

"As the state agency created and tasked with protecting Iowa’s natural resources, including Iowa’s world-renown white-tailed deer herd, we respect but are disappointed with the decision issued today by the Iowa Supreme Court in Brakke v. Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The Department’s quarantine of Pine Ridge Hunting Reserve was intended to prevent the wild deer herd from accessing the chronic wasting disease exposed soil on site. Chronic wasting disease prions exist in the environment without a live host.

Chronic wasting disease may be devastating to the health of Iowa’s deer herd. Among others, this could impact the more than 200,000 Iowans who hunt, which contributes more than $300 million annually to local communities. "