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The key to understanding the threat of CWD is learning more about the particles that cause it
My home in Wisconsin is less than 20 miles away from the detection site of the first case of Chronic Wasting Disease east of the Mississippi River in 2002. Michigan State University, where I attend school, is within the same proximity of the first detected case in the state of Michigan. It is safe to say that this disease has been in my backyard for most of my life.
As the disease spreads across the country, more and more hunters are finding CWD in their backyards, too. And while its name is increasingly familiar among sportsmen and women, CWD still remains a source of confusion for many.
Much of this confusion pertains to the small particles that cause it, known as prions. Although we commonly associate transmissible diseases with viruses and bacteria, prions are neither. Nor are they Fungi. They are not even alive.
So just what are these things, how do they spread, and why should we be worried about them?
The term “prion” is derived from “proteinaceous infectious particle,” and it was coined in 1982 by Stanley B. Prusiner of the University Of California San Francisco. In the United States, it is commonly pronounced PREE-on, while in the U.K. it is usually said PRY-on.
In short, prions are malformed proteins. Like other proteins, they are made up of complex chains of amino acids and exist in the membranes of many normal cells. Many forms of prions are not harmful, but certain prions can be highly destructive when they accumulate in the brain or other nervous tissues of an organism.
As prions do not have their own genetic information, they cannot reproduce independently, like bacteria, or through a host cell, like a virus. Prion molecules are dangerous because they “reproduce” by denaturing the normal proteins that are in close proximity to them. This process both facilitates the spread of the disease through the body and can cause the degradation of nervous tissue.
Prion-caused diseases, CWD among them, form holes in the brains of affected organisms and are known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, or TSEs—a very technical name for diseases that affects the brain (Encephalo = brain; pathy = disorder) by causing nervous tissue to become porous (spongiform = sponge-like), and can be spread from one individual to another (transmissible). These neurodegenerative disorders exhibit a comparatively long incubation period, are fatal in all circumstances, and include “Mad Cow” disease in bovid species, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
Because they are not alive, prions cannot be killed. The collection of amino acid molecules comprising a prion must be chemically denatured to lose their detrimental capabilities. As a result, prions are incredibly resilient to change–exposure of up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit will not deform the proteins—and can remain in a given environment for long periods of time.
In a deer infected with the disease, prions may be found in diverse body fluids and tissues, but particularly those relating to the nervous system. Bodily contact, urine, feces, and saliva can all serve as transmission vectors. In addition, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggests that prions can also be present in and spread through environmental vectors, including soil columns and waterways.
It is important to consider the epidemiology of CWD when comparing it to other threats against whitetail herds. Due to the nature of this disease, it can take years of prion buildup for a deer to exhibit symptoms of CWD such as weight loss, stumbling, lethargy, and other neurological conditions, whereas viral diseases like EHD (Epizootic hemorrhagic disease) can be evident after only seven days. This is one reason why hunters do not often find heaps of deer carcasses in the field from CWD, but see mass die-offs from EHD more often. However, this does not mean that CWD is not harmful. In fact, this feature makes CWD more insidious because it is more difficult to detect early infections.
While there has never been a recorded case of cervid-human transmission, the Center for Disease Control advises against eating meat from infected individuals. As early as 1997, the World Health Organization recommended that known agents of prion diseases be kept out of the food chain. Recent research suggests that CWD could be transmissible to primates, but this has only been studied on Cynomolgus Macaques and was a single, limited study.
The nature of this disease, especially the rapid transmission and longevity of prions, makes CWD the biggest threat to herds of whitetail, mule deer, elk, and moose populations. If hunters and conservationists hope to successfully combat this disease, it will be important to support wildlife professionals and scientists in their research efforts to learn more about prions and how to appropriately address their effect.
This was originally posted July 13, 2018 and has been updated.
44 groups offer input as lawmakers craft infrastructure legislation
“A paradigm shift.” That’s what 44 hunting, fishing, and conservation groups are calling for as lawmakers begin drafting infrastructure legislation.
With the current Highway Bill expiring in 2020, these organizations are asking Congress to invest in natural infrastructure, recreational access, improved permitting, and fish and wildlife habitat connectivity as lawmakers address resilient highway systems and federal roads.
“Improvements to our road systems can benefit wildlife habitat and hunting and fishing access, rather than detract from them,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “And now is the perfect time for Congress to invest in lasting solutions for our fish, wildlife, and outdoor way of life. Hunters and anglers are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with lawmakers to draft legislation that takes a holistic approach to infrastructure.”
“The Association is supportive of this legislation that is offering states the opportunity to increase their conservation efforts of fish and wildlife,” said Ron Regan, executive director for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. “The next Highway Bill will reauthorize funds that are the backbone of great fisheries management and conservation work, as well as access for boating and fishing that is provided by state fish and wildlife agencies across the country.”
“Collisions with vehicles and severed migratory movements are two key issues impacting mule deer and other big game species that need to be addressed in the next transportation bill,” said Miles Moretti, president and CEO of the Mule Deer Foundation. “The states need dedicated funding to ensure wildlife crossings are a priority in the future and not simply a ‘nice to have’ project if extra funds are available.”
“Conservation of our lands, waters, and wildlife is essential to our economy and well-being, so decisions about how to answer challenges like our highway infrastructure should include nature-based solutions,” said Kameran Onley, director of U.S. government relations at The Nature Conservancy. “For example, enlarging culverts to allow for increased flow of water during extreme rain events not only saves money by preventing future road and bridge damage, but also enhances wildlife and fish habitat. Solutions like these are cost-effective investments that generate impressive returns for all Americans, and we urge Congress to make those investments in the upcoming highway bill.”
“Forest roads are essential to get us to the places we like to fish, but if they’re not properly designed and maintained, they can harm fisheries by causing sedimentation and habitat fragmentation,” said Steve Moyer, vice president for government affairs at Trout Unlimited. “That’s why the transportation bill and programs like Legacy Roads and Trails are so important to anglers. National forests provide some of our best trout habitat, and Legacy Roads and Trails has provided funds that can be leveraged with other sources to right-size our road system and reconnect hundreds of miles of trout streams.”
“Transportation infrastructure on the National Wildlife Refuge System, including roads, trails, and bridges, is critical to providing the American people with safe access to their public lands and waters,” said Geoffrey Haskett, president of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. “The 2020 Transportation Bill’s inclusion of funding for the Refuge System to maintain and improve transportation infrastructure is critical to the 53 million annual refuge visitors and their recreational needs. Creating proper wildlife crossings and signage will also protect people and wildlife from vehicular collisions.”
“We welcome Congress’s steadfast commitment to passing a robust highway reauthorization bill in 2020 and encourage them to seize the opportunity by including a ‘Recreation Title’ in a comprehensive infrastructure package this year,” said Nicole Vasilaros, senior vice president of government and legal affairs for the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Outdoor recreation is a significant part of the U.S. economy—contributing 2.2 percent of the U.S. GDP and supporting 4.5 million American jobs—and it behooves lawmakers to put our industry front and center in any infrastructure-related debate.”
“Conservation lands—and the stewards of those lands—are impacted by transportation and public works projects in profound and often overlooked ways,” said Ben Jones, president and CEO of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society. “We appreciate the attention of our conservation partners and leaders in Congress to address such issues as promoting nature-based, resilient transportation systems and taking a needs-based assessment to funding road maintenance for our national forests and other lands.”
“As we continue to learn more about big game migration corridors and related barriers, it is imperative that we better integrate infrastructure planning with our wildlife connectivity needs,” said Dan Forster, vice president and chief conservation officer of the Archery Trade Association. “We are very excited to see improved integration efforts manifest themselves through these ongoing efforts.”
“Transportation systems are important in many ways to our human qualities of life, as are the natural landscapes through which these corridors occur,” said Tom Logan, chairman of the Board for Fly Fishers International. “Both values can only be assured, though, if future transportation planning considers the biological function and value of the nation’s land, water, fish, and wildlife. The 2020 transportation bill provides an excellent opportunity to establish smart environmental planning as the standard for protecting our public lands and waters, while maintaining our nation’s transportation systems.”
“Lack of habitat connectivity and water quality are two of the largest problems impacting fish species right now, and this includes popular recreational species and imperiled species alike,” said Doug Austen, executive director of the American Fisheries Society. “However, small investments in better road design can pay big dividends for both fish and people by providing better flood prevention, reconnected stream habitats, and improved durability for extreme weather events, especially for road-stream crossings.”
Top photo by USFWS Midwest Region
Just as federal investments in largescale restoration efforts are being made, the EPA’s proposal would undermine water quality in one of America’s top fishing destinations
It’s bad enough that the EPA has proposed a rule that will leave more than 50 percent of wetlands and 18 percent of stream miles nationwide without Clean Water Act protection, making fish and wildlife habitat more vulnerable. But the rule could also worsen existing conservation crises in places like the Everglades.
In fact, the EPA’s proposed rule could leave at least 4 million acres of wetlands throughout the Everglades without clean water protections. And in Florida’s Panhandle region, an additional 800,000 acres of wetlands lack direct surface connection to other waters and would therefore lose out.
Florida has already lost more wetland acreage than any other state in the lower 48—nearly half of what it had historically. Now, this rule would make it easier to drain, develop, or pollute wetlands
These wetlands not only provide critical waterfowl habitat and flood protection, but they also filter out harmful pollutants. Phosphorus levels in Lake Okeechobee are already more than three times the recommended limit, and if wetlands aren’t filtering the flow of harmful nutrients into the Everglades and surrounding waters, this could mean more toxic algal blooms, red tide, fishkills, and beach closures that negatively affect recreational fishing opportunities.
Further, if landowners are no longer required to protect wetlands on private lands, then they won’t apply for Farm Bill or Fish and Wildlife Service programs that help preserve wetlands at the top of the Everglades watershed. This important marshy area north of Lake Okeechobee acts as a sponge and slowly releases water into the lake, through the Everglades, and eventually out into Florida Bay. Eroding protection for these wetlands could exacerbate existing problems with increased salinity levels and seagrass die-offs.
It’s no time to weaken clean water standards in Florida—the Department of Environmental Protection reports poor water quality for 28 percent of the state’s river and stream miles and 25 percent of total lake acreage.
Decision-makers are finally following through on years of promises and funding restoration work in America’s Everglades. Why would we roll back clean water protections just as this work to improve water quality gets underway?
Take action before April 15 to stand up for clean water and healthy habitat in one of the country’s most beloved fishing destinations.
Photo by Vincent Lammin via flickr.
TRCP’s “In the Arena” series highlights the individual voices of hunters and anglers who, as Theodore Roosevelt so famously said, strive valiantly in the worthy cause of conservation
Hometown: Bend, Ore.
Occupation: Owner of Oregon Pack Works
Conservation credentials: Conservation Director, Oregon Hunters Association
Born and raised in eastern Oregon, Karl is a retired paramedic and worked as a professional firefighter for more than 37 years. In 2010, he co-founded Oregon Pack Works, a manufacturer of hunting-specific backpacks and binocular harnesses designed to offer the type of versatility required for backcountry experiences. Karl currently serves as conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association, a 10,000+ member non-profit organization dedicated to “protecting Oregon’s wildlife, habitat and hunting heritage.”
Here is his story.
I grew up the son of an outdoorsman in far eastern Oregon. My father was a gunsmith and boat-builder.
My hometown was perfectly situated at a confluence of four rivers, between the mountains and the high desert, where outdoor adventures were found at every direction of the compass.
Since the age of nine, I followed many relatives afield to fish, camp, and hunt, or to gather berries and mushrooms, often on scouting trips. These experiences were all made possible by the vast public lands and many waterways just out my backdoor. It was the perfect place to grow up.
In the 50 years since, those opportunities have declined in my home state of Oregon. I’ve witnessed the loss of large tracts of habitat for upland birds, mule deer, and the greater sage grouse, as well as a collection of tributaries that were once great trout fisheries. Time is running out for many of our waterways and landscapes, and for the flora and fauna that we love. Human impacts from population growth, urbanization, the overuse and abuse of our public lands, and a huge number of other threats mean that our hunting heritage could disappear.
When I was young, I used to think that conservation was for someone else to handle. I learned in my mid-20s, however, that there weren’t enough of us doing conservation work. Hunters and anglers must do more than purchase licenses, fly rods, and ammunition to fund our state fish and game agencies. We each must give back to the land—whether with our money, our time, or both—to restore the things lost in the places we love.
In 2002, I was lucky enough to experience a DIY caribou hunting float trip down a major river on Alaska’s North Slope, just adjacent to the National Petroleum Reserve. It was a cherished experience with friends both new and old, full of fabulous wildlife encounters, and I will remember it for the rest of my life.
These two weeks opened my eyes to the immensity of true wilderness, and also to the fragility of this incredible ecosystem, which is changing quickly. There are very few places like that left on earth, and the wildlife, landscape, and pristine waterways there should be protected.
The biggest challenge facing us as conservationists is educating people about the realities of climate change. It threatens to alter or eliminate the things that bring us joy as hunters and anglers. We cannot afford to take what we have today for granted.
Opening people’s eyes to their impacts on our natural resources, no matter how small, requires constant effort. Whether that means explaining how travel management plans and seasonal road closures benefit our fish and wildlife or teaching the “Leave No Trace” philosophy, spreading this message is critical if we hope to leave what we love better than we found it.
Instilling this conservation mindset is what fuels my work. I hope that by sharing these ethics we can restore what has been lost, protect our landscapes and waterways, and pass along our sporting and hunting heritage to the next generation.
Do you know someone “In the Arena” who should be featured here? Email email@example.com for a questionnaire.
In the last two years, policymakers have committed to significant investments in conservation, infrastructure, and reversing climate change. Hunters and anglers continue to be vocal about the opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations. Support solutions now.Learn More