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Rancher Butts Heads With State Over Exotic Game Ranch

September 13, 1990 GMT

DEVILS TOWER, Wyo. (AP) _ A millionaire rancher is locking horns with the state over a plan to establish an exotic game ranch on his 18,000-acre spread.

John Dorrance III, an heir to the Campbell Soup fortune, thumbed his nose at the state Game and Fish Department two weeks ago when he brought a dozen mixed breed deer to his ranch bordering Devils Tower in northeastern Wyoming.

Dorrance says he’s just trying to make an old-fashioned profit. He wants to breed the rare animals and sell their lean meat to fancy restaurants, their hides to clothiers and their horns to Asians, who say they make great aphrodisiacs.

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″I’m a threat to the Game and Fish. Let’s face it. I’m something they despise. I’ve got money and I’ve got private property,″ said Dorrance.

State wildlife officials say that’s nonsense. They contend the animals - three-way crossbreeds of red deer, sika deer and elk - could escape, spread disease and inbreed with Wyoming’s majestic, purebred wildlife. The deer were bred in Missouri.

″The best guarantee that these animals won’t spread disease to native wildlife is to get them out of the state,″ said agency spokesman Larry Kruckenberg. ″The bottom line is simple - we don’t want the animals here or the threats they pose.″

The controversy has resulted in dueling lawsuits, environmental outrage and a splash of Wyoming wit.

While the wildlife agency and environmentalists hardly find humor in the dispute, Wyoming residents are already lampooning the great grandson of condensed soup.

″What’s John Dorrance’s ultimate vision? Cream of Sika soup,″ chortles one jokester.

A local newspaper cartoon suggested that even Bambi will need a lawyer if Dorrance’s plans to create a full scale game ranch with wild boar, ibex and mouflon sheep were realized.

But Dorrance maintains he has done nothing illegal because his dozen hybrid deer are less than 50 percent of any one strain of species, and are therefore not considered wildlife under Wyoming law.

Dorrance calls the deer ″non-traditional livestock″ and are not under the jurisdiction of the Game and Fish Department.

″In bringing these animals into the state, I am simply exercising my right to pursue free enterprise and to do with my land as I see fit,″ said the 45- year-old Dorrance, who has been a rancher for 16 years in the hilly terrain made famous in the movie ″Close Encounters of the Third Kind.″

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″The animals are legal, free of disease and parasites and double-fenced. They aren’t going to hurt anyone.″

The wildlife agency disagrees and on Wednesday held a telephone conference that resulted in an emergency rule that redefines ″exotic wildlife,″ a definition that is at the heart of the dispute between Dorrance and the department.

The rule change came too late to cover the 12 animals Dorrance has already brought in from Missouri, but any others he planned to bring in would fall under the new rule.

The department also maintains the new rule wasn’t needed to outlaw Dorrance’s hybrids, arguing that since red deer and elk are essentially the same species, the animals do fall under their control even under the old rules.

The rancher says he will continue to fight for his private property rights, no matter how much it costs.

″When I moved here, I thought ‘Wyoming is what America was.’ Now I think Wyoming wants to be what Russia was - a bureaucratic nightmare where everything is controlled by a central government.″