Hunters need lawmakers to address USDA’s failure to invest in effective deer disease solutions
Long before COVID-19 emerged, Minnesota’s deer hunters and wildlife enthusiasts had been worried about an epidemic that threatens some of our most iconic wildlife species and important outdoor traditions.
Of course, I’m talking about chronic wasting disease. It too has the ability to alter the fabric of our lives, and it deserves our attention.
The best way to end the spread of CWD – a wildlife disease with no known cure that is 100-percent fatal and threatens Minnesota’s whitetail deer and moose – is to stop the movement of potentially infected animals, whether they are alive or dead. Deer hunters now have a comprehensive set of rules to abide by as they harvest deer and transport carcasses around the state. The state has also taken steps to slow the movement of live captive animals that are especially well-suited to spread the disease.
But while the regulation of wild deer and deer hunters falls entirely to the Minnesota DNR, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Minnesota’s Board of Animal Health, retain the authority to regulate captive deer raised by deer farmers. An agency at the USDA, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is tasked with the job of ensuring that potentially CWD-infected live deer aren’t being moved across the landscape.
It is a job they aren’t doing particularly well. APHIS uses what they call the Herd Certification Program, an utterly toothless (and strictly voluntary) method for keeping captive deer herds “low-risk.” But the facts tell a different story when each and every year, so-called “low-risk herds” still manage to transport CWD-positive deer across state lines.
What’s more, only a fraction of deer farmers even participate. When it comes to stopping the movement of CWD-infected deer, the Herd Certification Program is about as porous as a screen door on a Northwoods hunting cabin.
This year, Congress set aside funding for APHIS to help state wildlife agencies invest in better CWD management. But that money has been diverted and is in part being used to fund the research priorities of the captive deer industry – research of no benefit to wild deer or deer hunters.
Despite the national–indeed, global–scope of chronic wasting disease, exceedingly little federal money seems poised to make it to the ground where it would matter most.
Fortunately, Congressman Collin Peterson is in a fine position to help Minnesota’s wild deer and deer hunters. As an avid sportsman, Mr. Peterson understands just how important a healthy deer herd is to Minnesota, and as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, he is uniquely capable of ensuring that the USDA doesn’t remain asleep at the switch.
Chairman Peterson could help ensure a healthy future for Minnesota’s deer and deer hunters by holding an oversight hearing to take a hard look at the persistent failures of the Herd Certification Program and identify specific ways to strengthen it. Deer hunters from across the state encourage Congressman Peterson to use this authority, and hunters across the country stand ready to help, as well.
Tom Landwehr is a concerned deer hunter, lifelong conservationist, and past commissioner of the Minnesota DNR. He currently serves as the executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
Sign the TRCP’s open letter to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and demand the transparent and effective use of CWD funding.