Political interference is likely to blame for a recent decision to halt the closure of illegal deer farms in New Brunswick, according to an official with the Atlantic Wildlife Institute.
The Department of Natural Resources suspended its plan to force illegal deer farm owners to close their operations and get rid of their herds last week.
Instead, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said his department would study the potential risks and benefits of farming white-tailed deer.
Barry Rothfuss, the executive director of the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, said he is suspicious about the motivations for the policy reversal.
"The government was turning a blind eye for 20 years, and something went wrong and they still don't do anything about it," Rothfuss said.
"They turn around and say they're going to readdress the law to fit your business. There's something that goes beyond the normal management process that normally takes place when dealing with these issues. There's got to be some sort of influence above and beyond the process."
The majority of the white-tailed deer farms are located in northwestern New Brunswick. Those ridings are all held by Progressive Conservative MLAs.
However, the Opposition Liberals, including Dalhousie-Restigouch East MLA Donald Arseneault, supported the provincial government's policy reveral.
Under the Fish and Wildlife Act, white-tailed deer cannot be kept in captivity in New Brunswick, regardless whether they were bred or raised in captivity.
The provincial government discovered 15 illegal operations with a total of more than 140 deer during an internal investigation launched last fall.
In October 2011, Donald Dubé, 55, of Saint-Léonard, was attacked and killed by a buck in his backyard pen.
Rothfuss said other provinces that do allow farming of native animals are now reconsidering the practice.
"They're at the stage where they have to make a determination as to how tightly they have to regulate the activity that they already have in operation," he said.
"We have the luxury. We did it right from the beginning where we don't have that headache right now. I don't think this is the time to turn around that process.
Rothfuss said that allowing deer yards to continue operating in New Brunswick would be a step backwards for the province.