Critics question broad powers of Texas Parks and Wildlife

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on March 1, 2011 at 11:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 2 at 1:25 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife has broad police powers — including the ability to enter private property without a warrant.

Critics of the state agency say it is abusing that power.

A News 8 investigation found that during an ongoing law enforcement investigation, Parks and Wildlife pushed through a change in state regulations so it could make a case.

Nobody involved has fond memories of December 6, 2010.

On that date, game wardens from Texas Parks and Wildlife shot and killed 71 captive deer at a Hunt County Ranch owned by James Anderton and his son Jimmie.

The men were deer breeders, raising prize bucks. Similar to breeding cattle or horses, deer breeding is a $650 million industry in Texas.

The Andertons were charged with transporting 125 deer from Arkansas to Texas. Moving deer across state lines is a violation of federal law.

The two men pleaded guilty to moving just one deer and were serving time in federal prison on that December day.

Parks and Wildlife said it was possible the out-of-state deer had infected the Andertons' deer with something called chronic wasting disease, or CWD.

"They don't look like they carry a disease," said Sharon Anderton, James' wife.

Experts fear CWD could eventually infect and kill a large number of deer in Texas, but the disease has never been been found in the state.

Animals can only be tested for CWD when they're dead.

In December, News 8 asked Parks and Wildlife spokesman Capt. Garry Collins if there was any evidence that the Andertons' deer were sick.

"No, sir, not that I'm aware of," Collins replied.

But when asked whether his agency needed some proof or evidence to destroy the family's herd, Collins' response was clear and simple: "No sir."

When the test results came back, all the deer that had been killed were declared healthy.

Gene Riser is a South Texas deer breeder, one of 1,200 in Texas. He says Parks and Wildlife — which regulates his industry — has too much power.

"Parks and Wildlife has often acted without what I would call 'due process,'" he said.

Documents obtained by News 8 found that even though Parks and Wildlife insisted its only option was to kill the Andertons' herd, the agency's Chief of Law Enforcement, David Sinclair, had — at one point — hoped "open the gate and liberate the deer..."

"We knew there were deer coming to the state, but we didn't know that there were deer coming to that specific facility until later on in the game," Sinclair said. "I wish I could remember the timeline a little bit better, but our actions — I think — were in order. I don't know what else to say on that."

Documents also show that while the fate of the Andertons' herd was pending, Sinclair asked for — and received — an amendment to state regulations "to shut (Anderton) down."

During that process, Sinclair wrote in a message, "I've already put too much info in e-mails about putting Anderton out of business."

The change, which was approved by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, was approved. Shortly after, the 71 Anderton deer were dispatched.

Was it Parks and Wildlife's intention to put Anderton out of business or to enforce the law?

"Well, he was a bad actor in our eyes; bad for the industry, bad for the resource," Sinclair said. "He needed to be out of the business, bottom line. Needed to be out."

Parks and Wildlife got their man, a convicted felon who broke the law.

But breeders like Riser wonder if the state is willing to go that far, who will be next?

Last year, Parks and Wildlife killed a total of 284 captive deer raised by Texas breeders. That's a 300 percent increase from the year before.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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