On December 4th the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hosted a Legislative Hearing focused on creating a Task Force through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to address Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) on a nationwide scale. The idea of establishing a CWD Task Force has strong bipartisan support and would bring together state and federal agencies, deer farmers, and some of the top scientists in the nation.
CWD is a fatal disease effecting deer, elk, caribou and moose in 26 states and 4 Canadian provinces in addition to parts of South Korea and Norway. The disease is caused by misfolded proteins called prions, which also cause Mad Cow Disease and scrapie in sheep. However, unlike Mad Cow Disease there has yet to be a documented case of CWD making the jump to humans.
While CWD is not currently causing widespread reductions in deer populations, that potential certainly exists; this combined with human health concerns and impacts on hunter participation mean that CWD represents one of the most important threats to hunting and wildlife management in North America today. The SCI Foundation is currently in the process of developing a new strategy related to CWD and plans to work closely with the forthcoming task force.
The establishment of a CWD Task force would “encourage federal agencies and states to better coordinate their monitoring, research and management efforts” said Senator Tom Carper from Delaware. The panel of witnesses that provided testimony at the hearing each provided unique perspectives, but all agreed that the establishment of a task force is vital to improving information sharing and pooling resources between a multitude agencies and organizations.
The hearing was led by Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming, one of the states that has been hit hardest by CWD, and the panel of witnesses providing testimony included Brian Nesvik, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Kent Leonhardt, Commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, and Whit Fosburg, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership also provided support for moving forward with creating the Task Force.
In his testimony Nesvik alluded to some of the challenge’s states are facing when it comes to combating CWD,” this disease has economic affects and indirectly impacts the work state agencies are able to conduct on other high conservation priorities. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies estimates states will spend $84 million on testing and surveillance over the next 5 years. Infrastructure at the federal level that facilitates cross-state and interagency coordination, planning and synchronization is needed” said Nesvik.
SCI agrees that dedicated funding from the federal government is needed to match the severity and magnitude of the problem and our organization will continue to work with members of Congress in hopes of advancing legislation that would appropriate substantial federal funding for states to expand research on finding a cure and to increase monitoring efforts in hopes of preventing the disease from spreading further.