Feds begin to pitch in on CWD effort
Washington, D.C. Congress is entering the battle against chronic wasting disease (CWD). The House Resources Committee recently hosted a hearing in Washington to accept testimony from wildlife experts in states where the always-fatal deer and elk disease has been discovered.
Max Peterson, of the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, said a legislative package to address CWD is being prepared and likely will be announced this month. Wildlife managers are hoping the federal government will provide funds for CWD research and testing, as new discoveries of the disease in wild deer and elk continue to occur.
"It may well be that this is the beginning of a major spread of the disease throughout the country," Peterson said.
Particularly alarming has been the discovery of CWD in Wisconsin white-tailed deer, because the state's large, densely populated herd may provide conditions that allow the disease to spread quickly.
Gov. Scott McCallum testified before the House committee and returned home with federal money to combat the disease.
Wisconsin will receive $3.5 million in federal funds to bolster its food safety and disease management program, including efforts to combat chronic wasting disease in the state's deer and elk herds. Much of that $2 million will go for improving the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory in Madison. The lab is seeking federal certification to test for CWD.
Another $1 million will be used for one of three tissue digesters in the nation, which likely will be placed at the lab to help dispose of animal tissue sent there for testing.
The money is part of $43.3 million the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing states to help set up a national network to deal with disease outbreaks that occur naturally or are caused by terrorists. Besides money for the lab and digester, Wisconsin will receive $480,000 to protect livestock, $50,000 for emergency preparedness, and $5,000 for surveillance.
In addition to the money for Wisconsin, Colorado will get $2.5 million.
Kansas, which also has cases of CWD in its captive deer and elk populations, will get $1.7 million. McCallum and Wisconsin's congressional delegation asked for $4 million in emergency money from the USDA to fight CWD for this year.
U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., said that requests for federal dollars are still outstanding.
"Our request was separate from what we knew was coming anyway," Kind said. "I certainly hope they don't think this takes care of the state's CWD request."
In Wisconsin, 18 deer near the Mount Horeb area have tested positive for CWD, the first time it has been found east of the Mississippi River. The state hopes to kill about 15,000 deer in a 361-square mile area in an effort to eliminate the disease.
The tissue digester uses a chemical process to turn deer carcasses into a goo that is then disposed. The DNR will likely use the digester to dispose of deer tissue, along with incinerating carcasses or putting non-infected deer in landfills.
Peterson said that while issues related to wild deer and elk are the responsibility of the states, the federal government can play a role in providing funding for research. Currently, the only way to test for CWD is with tissue from a dead animal. There are needs to develop a test for live animals and a reasonably quick testing process for hunter-killed deer.
Presently, experts believe that CWD has most been spread by moving captive deer and elk among game farms. Peterson said his organization has long advocated strict regulation of game farm traffic.
While CWD is only found in some geographic locations, it's already affecting wildlife conservation nationwide. Elk restoration in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been put on hold, because of concerns that elk stocked there could be CWD carriers. Three elk that died recently at the park are being tested for CWD, although preliminary results are negative.