By KEVIN WALKER
ROCKFORD, Mich. — Two men have been charged with violating the state’s quarantine order regarding the movement of whitetail deer and other cervids.
James and Brian Schuiteman, owners of J & B Whitetails, were charged on March 2 with violating the state’s Animal Industry Act for moving a deer off of their property in violation of the order. The chronic wasting disease (CWD) quarantine order was put into place by the Michigan Department of Agriculture last August after a deer in a private cervid facility, also in Kent County, turned up positive for CWD.
If the men are found guilty they could be fined between $1,000-$5,000 and sentenced to prison for up to five years.
Jason Rop, an attorney based in Rockford, said he couldn’t provide details on the case so far, but questioned the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) science as well as its tactics.
“There has been only a single case of CWD,” he said. “Based on so little evidence, the DNR is coming down pretty hard on my clients.”
Rop said since the body of the one CWD positive deer was burned, it’s hard to know that it wasn’t a false positive. He also stated the DNR is behind the prosecution. He said even though the Kent County prosecutor’s office is now handling the case, it’s merely acting as the “police agency” for the DNR.
The Schuitemans have waived their right to a preliminary examination in district court and the case has now gone to the circuit court. According to the Kent County prosecutor’s office, no one has been assigned to the case yet.
According to a statement issued by the DNR, its officers David Rodgers and Michael Mshar observed two people enter the quarantined facility on Aug. 23, 2008, of around midnight – the day after the quarantine order was first issued – with flashlights and a tranquilizer gun. The officers witnessed the subjects tranquilize a deer, load it into a trailer and remove it from the facility. The officers then stopped the vehicle while it was on the road.
According to the DNR’s narrative, the officers found the deer in the trailer with identification tags removed. They questioned the suspects, who they say told the officers they planned to release the deer into the wild.
The animal was returned to the facility, where it was put down and sent to the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health at Michigan State University for testing. The deer tested negative for CWD.
A subsequent investigation by the DNR included a review of records at Big Buck Taxidermy, which is located on the Schuitemans’ property. The DNR found that two free-ranging deer with intact heads had been imported into the state illegally and delivered to Big Buck Taxidermy by customers.
The deer had been taken from known CWD endemic areas in Wyoming and South Dakota.