Three Charged With White-tailed Deer Importation

Three men, including two from Mississippi, have been accused of importing white-tailed deer into Mississippi in a federal indictment that was unsealed this week.

According to US Attorney Gregory K. Davis of the Southern District of Mississippi, Coleman Virgil Slade, 70, of Purvis, Don Durrett, 72, of Aspermont, Texas, and Dewayne Slade, 44, of Purvis, have been charged with various violations of the federal Lacey Act.

Durrett and Dewayne Slade appeared for arraignment on Tuesday and pled not guilty to the seven-count federal indictment. Coleman Virgil Slade is expected to be arraigned at a later date. According to the indictment, from January of 2009 through December of 2012, the Slades and Durrett conspired to purchase and transport in interstate commerce live white-tailed deer from Texas to Mississippi in violation of both state and federal laws. If convicted, each faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.

The indictment states Dewayne Slade owns a high-fence enclosure of approximately 420 acres in Lamar County. It also states that Durrett owns and operates a 9,000-acre enclosed ranch in Stonewall County, Texas. According to the indictment, deer were moved from Durrett's ranch to Dewayne Slade's enclosure, "...for the purpose of breeding and killing trophy white-tailed buck deer."

The quest for big bucks in Mississippi is an economic driver at many levels, but importation is banned, regardless. Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Wildlife Bureau director Chad Dacus explained why.

"The main reason is the potential disease transmission," Dacus said. "Any time you're moving animals around, that's an opportunity to move disease."

One disease that has been at the forefront of discussion among hunters and biologists is chronic wasting disease. It is always fatal to deer and there is no cure. It has also been known to spread by transportation of deer.

Dacus found the suspected importation of deer into Mississippi particularly troubling because they came from Texas - a state with confirmed cases of CWD in several locations.

"Any time you have deer coming from a state that is CWD-positive, it's a scary situation," Dacus said.

The indictment comes at a time when Mississippi hunters and biologists are in a heightened state of concern over the disease. News came from neighboring Arkansas earlier this year that an elk had tested positive for the disease in the northwest portion of the state. Since then, 81 deer and three elk have been found to be positive and the origin of the outbreak is unknown.

The trial for Durrett and the Slades is scheduled for June 20 in Hattiesburg.

BY BRIAN BROOM, THE CLARION-LEDGER