The state Court of Appeals in Nashville yesterday upheld Tennessee’s ban on private ownership of white-tailed deer, ruling that the state regulation protects native animals.

The case was before the court for the third time in a long-running dispute over a 1991 statute that says only zoos, temporary exhibitors and rehabilitation facilities may keep deer and some other native animals in captivity.

The statute also gave the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency authority to add or remove animals from the ban.

The law was challenged by Robert Bean, Franklin Shaffer, David Autrey and Mack Roberts, who argued that it unfairly restricted interstate commerce and unconstitutionally delegated legislative authority to TWRA.

The state Supreme Court upheld the TWRA’s role in 1997, and the Court of Appeals ordered a lower court in 1999 to hold a hearing on the commerce clause.

The state defended its statute on the grounds that banning captive deer fights the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal deer brain ailment akin to mad cow disease. Chancellor Irvin Kilcrease ruled for the state, and a three-judge appeals panel concurred in a ruling released yesterday.

The ruling noted that the disease has no treatment, cannot be detected until after an animal has died and can be transmitted by keeping deer in captivity.