October 20, 2021
As the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease continues across North America, the battle to combat the deadly wildlife disease continues to roll on.
While much of that battle in the past couple of decades has centered around state and tribal efforts, the battle is once again ratcheting up at the federal level, with the introduction this week of the bipartisan Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act.
Brought to Congress on Oct. 19, 2021, by Reps. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Glenn Thompson (R-PA), who represent two states that have suffered greatly from CWD over the years, the bill takes aim at increasing what is known about CWD, as well as what additional steps might be possible to combat it.
As many hunters know, CWD is a fatal neurological disease first recognized in Colorado in the late 1960s. Since that first discovery in captive mule deer, CWD, which affects wild and captive cervids like deer, elk and moose, has now spread to wild and captive animals in 25 states and three Canadian provinces. The disease has also been discovered in cervids in Norway and South Korea.
With CWD's presence continuing to increase—Texas is one state with several new CWD case discoveries this year alone—and with the threat that the disease places on wild populations of cervids, concern remains extremely high about the disease, its effects, and its rampant spread.
"Recent CWD discoveries in new locations across the state are deeply concerning and underscore the criticality of redoubling efforts to help arrest the spread of this disease," said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in the news release referenced above.
"While it is important to realize that CWD is still not widespread in Texas, complacency is not an option. The only way to ensure we are effective in combating the further spread of CWD is with the active help of hunters, wildlife managers, deer breeders, and landowners. Clearly, it is imperative that we work together to protect our native deer populations to ensure the health and vitality of one of our state’s greatest natural resources."
Broad Goals on CWD
The newly introduced bill in Congress aims to capitalize on those very ideas. The bill seeks to do so by escalating funding for "…research, surveillance, monitoring, and management activities focused on containing and managing chronic wasting disease."
Why the newly introduced legislative effort on Capitol Hill?
"As an avid hunter, I know how important it is to maintain a healthy deer herd in Wisconsin so we can protect our outdoor traditions and economy," said Rep. Ron Kind in a news release from his office.
"CWD is a serious threat to our deer herds, and we need all hands on deck to combat this disease. That’s why I’m proud to team up with my colleague Rep. Thompson and introduce this bipartisan bill that brings scientists, local officials, and hunters to the table to help manage and prevent the spread of CWD.”
Added Thompson in the news release, "CWD has been a big problem for the deer populations of Pennsylvania and additional cervid animals, such as elk and moose, throughout the country. This bill was crafted with robust stakeholder support and will prioritize research in the transmission of, resistance to, and diagnosis of CWD. It is imperative we better understand the genetic implications of the disease, so we can develop policies best suited to solve the problem. I look forward to moving quickly with my colleagues in Congress to do our part in eradicating CWD."
How will this bipartisan bill accomplish such a broad goal at the state, tribal, and federal levels?
According to an e-mailed news release from the National Deer Association, the act will authorize "…$70 million annually from Fiscal Year 2022 through Fiscal Year 2028 for research and management of CWD, with the money to be split evenly between research and management. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will administer the funds through cooperative agreements."
Specifically, the research section authorizes funds to be allocated for such things as methods of detection in live cervids and the environment, testing methods on dead cervids, looking into genetic resistance to the disease, identifying sustainable harvest management practices to reduce the disease's occurrence, and how and why the disease emerges on a local level.
In the management section of the bill, funds can be authorized for state and tribal wildlife agencies to spend, as well as departments of agriculture. Those funds are prioritized in areas with the largest incidence of CWD; in jurisdictions demonstrating the greatest commitment to managing, monitoring, surveying, and researching the deadly wildlife disease; for efforts to develop comprehensive policies and programs to manage and combat the disease; and for areas at greatest risk and where new outbreaks of CWD are occurring.
According to the NDA, the bill also delivers authorization for the USDA, for state agencies, and for tribal agencies, to develop educational programs and materials that will be distributed to the public. Incidentally, the USDA is also instructed by the proposed legislation to review its herd certification program (HCP) within 18 months of passage of the bill.
Support for the bill introduced this week is broad and enthusiastic, as you might suspect and is supported by several wildlife conservation and outdoors advocacy groups like the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation (CSF), Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), Boone & Crockett Club (B&C), National Deer Association (NDA), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF), and the Mule Deer Foundation, to name a few.
In fact, leaders from each of those organizations voiced support for the act in a wide selection of comments that addressed concerns for the disease itself, for research into the disease and potential treatments, for management concerns, and for the threat that CWD plays in terms of America’s long and strong big-game hunting heritage.
Here's what they said:
- "Chronic Wasting Disease is not only a significant threat to deer, elk, and moose, it's a threat to the management of all wildlife that is supported by the pursuit of these impacted species by hunters," said Nick Pinizzotto, National Deer Association President and CEO. "The CWD Research and Management Act will help states and tribes manage the disease locally while providing much needed financial support to researchers working to find ways to stop it."
- "The threat posed by CWD to deer hunting in America is difficult to overstate—for too long, funding woes, research questions, and ineffectual enforcement have resulted in a worsening status quo," said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in the news release from Congressman Kind’s office. "Curbing the accelerated spread of this disease each year requires an all-encompassing effort that can only be achieved by the pragmatic, bipartisan approach in this bill. The TRCP and our partners are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Kind and Thompson and look forward to working alongside both lawmakers to bring this critical legislation to passage."
- "Chronic wasting disease is a significant threat to many of our country's native big-game species, a challenge that affects both future hunting opportunity and the health of these ecologically important wildlife species," said James F. Arnold, president of the Boone and Crockett Club. "We appreciate the continued leadership of Congressmen Kind and Thompson for their efforts to find solutions to this growing challenge. The legislation that they introduced today will provide critical new funding to state wildlife agencies that are on the front lines battling CWD."
- "The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) applauds Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Members Reps. Kind and Thompson for their leadership in introducing a practical, bipartisan, and comprehensive bill to address one of today’s most critical wildlife management issues – chronic wasting disease (CWD)," said CSF President and CEO Jeff Crane. "This legislation unites all interested CWD stakeholders – including America’s 55 million sportsmen and women – in a focused policy effort, and is an unprecedented step forward in addressing this concerning disease."
To learn more about what your particular area is doing to manage and combat CWD, as well as potential carcass movement and importation restrictions, please visit the website of your state natural resource agency.