Nelson resident continues fight over conditions at Bernheim

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Erin McCoy, Landmark News Service

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - The last captive deer at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest has been moved to a private wildlife sanctuary, officially ending the forest’s captive mammal program.

Briana, an 18-year-old whitetail deer, was moved to Broadbent Wildlife Sanctuary near Irvington Feb. 18, according to Bernheim Executive Director Dr. Mark K. Wourms.

How the move will affect a lawsuit against Wourms involving the deer’s treatment while at Bernheim remains unclear.

However, on the date of the deer’s move, a new lawsuit was filed in Bullitt County by the same plaintiff — Nelson County resident Elaine Matthews — this time against the Isaac W. Bernheim Foundation and Frost Brown Todd LLC, the law firm representing Wourms in the initial lawsuit.

In the initial lawsuit, filed March 1, 2010, Matthews alleged that the two deer in captivity at Bernheim at the time — Briana and Fuzzy, the latter which died in May 2010 — were being systematically underfed with food that had a lower percentage of protein — 10 percent — than the amount recommended by experts in the field.

When Fuzzy died, terms of the lawsuit expanded to include a request that Briana, which was now alone in the deer enclosure at Bernheim, have a companion, according to Susan Williams of Frost Brown Todd LLC.

A goat was selected as a companion for the deer. The goat died in mid-February this year, days before Briana was moved.

With the deer no longer at Bernheim, Matthews’ lawsuit may no longer be applicable.

“I would expect that it should moot the issues [in] the lawsuit,” Williams said.

Wourms declined to comment on whether the decision to move the deer was made with the lawsuit in mind. He stated Bernheim had been discussing bringing its captive mammal program to an end for several years.

“We moved the deer because strategically we wanted to end our captive mammal program. We believe there are better ways for Bernheim to connect people with nature than to display captive mammals,” he said.

He did not specify what new programs may replace the captive mammal program.

Matthews has filed a notice of appeal in the suit, which is currently on its way to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, according to a deputy at the Bullitt County Circuit Clerk’s office.

Matthews declined to comment on the record as to the nature of the appeal or her feelings on the deer’s move, but said she may comment at a later date.

According to Williams, the appeal alleges the goat was not a suitable companion for the deer, and therefore a confidential, mediated agreement reached by the two parties in summer 2010 had been breached. Matthews also wanted to add additional terms, Williams said.

“She was not happy with the goat that was chosen because she did not think that it was the right kind of goat” and did not like the way it acted, Williams said.

In the same agreement Bernheim consented to increasing the protein in the deer’s diet.

“They didn’t believe it was necessary and any experts they spoke to didn’t believe it was necessary,” Williams said. “Several times Bernheim tried to accommodate Mrs. Matthews and help to do things that would keep her a happy person.”

According to Wourms, Briana will be in the company of other deer at Broadbent.

“Now it’s in a big yard with other deer and is doing very well,” he said.