The Department of Natural Resources will now allow white-tailed deer farms in the province, more than a year after ordering them to shut down.

The provincial government had given 15 illegal deer farms until June 25 to close their operations or face prosecution following the death of Donald Dubé, who was attacked and killed by a buck in his backyard deer pen in Saint-Léonard in October 2011.

But Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup ended up delaying that decision after illegal deer farm operators complained. Northrup had vowed the industry would first be studied to better understand the risks and benefits of farming white-tailed deer.

On Thursday, Northrup said in a news release the department studied regulations in other provinces and concluded the farms could be operated safely in New Brunswick.

"Those who wish to farm white-tailed deer will be able to obtain a provincial permit to raise animals for their own use or for sale outside New Brunswick," he said in a statement.

Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec allow white-tailed deer farming within their borders.

In 2012, an internal government investigation found 15 illegal white-tailed deer operations across New Brunswick with a total of more than 140 deer.

The province's Fish and Wildlife Act currently prevents people from keeping native and non-native wildlife in captivity without a permit.

Biologists have warned that captive white-tailed deer pose a risk to native wildlife populations, human health and public safety.

New rules for farmers

According to the New Brunswick government, the new rules will allow farmers to raise white-tailed deer for their own use and for live export. New Brunswick farmers will also be allowed to bring captive-bred white-tailed deer into the province for breeding.

As well, the Department of Natural Resources will keep its ban on pen hunting. The provincial government is also prohibiting farmers from selling white-tailed deer meat and other white-tailed products within New Brunswick.

"If we allow farmed white-tailed deer to be slaughtered and sold here, this would open the door to poachers who could sell wild deer meat and claim it came from farmed animals," Northrup said in a statement.

"This would be a serious threat to our wild deer population."

The deer farmers will have to comply with a series of provincial regulations regarding fencing standards and identifying the farmed deer, according to the statement.

They will also need to meet federal regulations on disease tracking and certifying the stock, the statement says.