A Tennessee elk and bison ranch and a national deer farmers' group are challenging Kentucky's law banning deer or elk from being transported into the state.
Two Feathers Elk and Bison Ranch in McMinville, Tenn., and the North American Deer Farmers Association are asking a federal judge to declare Kentucky's law unconstitutional, arguing that it illegally restricts interstate commerce.
"We don't believe they are interpreting the law properly," said Shawn Schafer, executive director of the deer farmers association, an 800-member group based in Lake City, Minn.
The farm and the group have sued Jonathan Gassett, the commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and Karen J. Alexy, division director of wildlife for the department, on Friday in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
Phone calls to Gassett and Alexy after 5 p.m. Friday were not immediately returned.
But Morgain Sprague, general counsel for the fish and wildlife department, has sent the attorney for Two Feathers ranch a letter warning that any animals confiscated in Kentucky would be destroyed. He said the law is Constitutional and is being interpreted correctly.
"Your clients are free to use the interstates surrounding the Commonwealth of Kentucky to import cervids into Tennessee," Sprague wrote.
Kentucky state law bans the importation of elk and deer to protect the state's elk and white-tailed deer herds from chronic wasting disease. State officials have enforced the law to prohibit anyone from bringing deer or elk across state lines, even if the animals are destined for another state.
Violating the law is a felony, punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and five years in prison.
That has posed problems for Two Feathers ranch, which wants to ship animals to and from Kansas and pass through Kentucky on the interstate, Schafer said. The ranch applied to Kentucky for permits to transport the animals across state lines but was refused, Schafer said.
But Schafer said he believes the ban violates the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The Kentucky law is also discriminatory because it allows deer and elk farmers in the state to move their animals around, he said.
Schafer said Kentucky is the only state his group knows of that interprets the law to ban deer and elk from even crossing state lines.
"When I take a load of horses down to Florida, I don't have to call ahead and check with all the states in between to make sure it's OK to drive through," Schafer said.
In September, Wildlife and Fisheries agents arrested Timothy Cory Looper of Livingston, Tenn., as he passed west of Paducah with a load of elk and deer. The animals were destined for a hunting lodge in Tennessee, but the state destroyed the animals.
Looper was charged with six felony counts of illegally importing elk and deer into Kentucky. His case is pending.