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Whit Fosburgh

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posted in: CWD

October 18, 2021

This Is the #1 Threat to Deer Hunting

The movement of live deer is supercharging the spread of chronic wasting disease, and the captive deer industry must be held accountable

It’s a fantastic time of year to be in the woods, and as much as we’d love to just let you enjoy your deer season, without any nagging sense of unease, there is a critical need for hunters to speak out about the rapid spread of chronic wasting disease.

By now, you’ve heard us repeatedly state these facts about CWD: It’s 100-percent fatal in deer, elk, moose, and other cervids. It is now found in 26 U.S. states, and possibly others where they have failed to detect or even test for it. Infected animals can spread the disease through urine and saliva, sometimes for years, before succumbing to its effects. The prions—malformed proteins that cause CWD—can be taken up in plant matter and transported, and hunters can unwittingly spread CWD by transporting the carcass of an infected animal.

But it’s time that we get real about one more thing: The greatest threat to deer hunting is the movement of live deer within and between states by the captive deer industry.

Freak Deer, Profit Motive, and CWD

For those who lack the time, patience, or skills to harvest a deer the old-fashioned way—but who have plenty of money and no qualms about practicing fair chase—captive deer facilities are just the answer. A person can select his or her deer from a menu, and success is guaranteed. Moreover, these facilities can grow deer never found in nature. Genetic manipulation, steroids, supercharged feed, and no challenge from predators can create freaks that true hunters know did not come from the wild but look great on a den or office wall.

When a single deer can be sold for more than $25,000, it is easy to understand why there are 4,000 or more such facilities in the U.S. today. But we can point to at least four examples in the last five months that show the blatant disregard for science by the captive deer industry and the fecklessness of current state and federal regulations.

In northern Minnesota, CWD-positive carcasses from a defunct captive facility were discovered dumped on nearby public land, threatening to introduce the disease to a new part of the state. In Texas, the disease was detected at three facilities outside of Dallas and San Antonio, but only after those facilities shipped deer to more than 260 others across the state.

CWD was then detected in a captive whitetail deer on a hunting preserve in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier, spreading the disease to a new part of the state and posing a heightened threat to New York’s deer population to the north. Most recently, two CWD-positive captive deer in Wisconsin prompted an investigation into one of the most, if not the most, extensive web of deer shipments from a CWD-positive facility on record—nearly 400 deer were sent to 40 facilities in seven states over the last five years.

CWD was first detected in a captive facility in Colorado in 1967 and since that time has spread to almost every place captive deer facilities exist. Federal and state best practices demand that any facility where a CWD-positive deer is found be depopulated and closed. Science shows that the prions remain in the soil of an infected facility for a decade or more, so just getting rid of infected animals is not sufficient. But the profit motive is so great, it is common for deer breeders to hide infections, or simply not test, and thus spread the disease.

Four Ways to Prevent Captive Deer From Spreading CWD

It is past time for state and federal regulators to step in and prevent the threat of CWD to wild deer, as the captive deer industry either lacks the ability or willingness to police itself. Here’s how:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture should immediately ban the interstate movement of live deer.
  • Congress needs to help fund surveillance and testing programs in all the states.
  • All captive deer facilities should follow the best management practices put forward by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in 2018, including double fencing—which helps to eliminate direct transmission from captive to wild deer—and 100-percent testing of all captive deer deaths.
  • All deer breeders should be required to have insurance or post a bond to fund the depopulation and permanent closure of infected facilities, so taxpayers no longer have to foot the bill for a bad actor’s reckless behavior.

Hunters understand that success in the deer woods is not guaranteed. In fact, most of us return emptyhanded from a day in the woods but generally richer for the experience. But we cannot fail when it comes to stopping CWD. Hunters, politicians, and regulators need to step up and do what is necessary for the deer hunting tradition—and the billions of dollars in conservation funding that hunters generate—can continue into the future.

Do Your Part Now

Do what you can this season: Get your deer tested. Check your local regulations on carcass transport and disposal. Consider boning out your deer in the field to avoid transporting the parts of the carcass that would carry CWD. (MeatEater’s Janis Putelis takes you through the process in the video below.) Finally, take action to push the Secretary of Agriculture to take immediate action to stop the spread of CWD from captive deer facilities.

 

Top photo courtesy of the National Deer Association.

2 Responses to “This Is the #1 Threat to Deer Hunting”

  1. Finally!!! Action on CWD that actually will accomplish something and not just a bunch of “feel-good, look-at-us-doing something” rubbish. Literally everyone knows that CWD starts, continues, and ends with captive deer facilities. Let’s keep up the pressure and put an end to the senseless denial that we’ve had to endure for so long.

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Kristyn Brady

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posted in: CWD

July 29, 2021

House Votes to Increase Key Conservation Funds that Benefit Waterfowl, Deer, and Sportfish

The chamber passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills outlining funding for the federal agriculture, energy, water, environment, and public land agencies, including investments in conservation that will affect hunting and fishing in America

In a 219 – 208 floor vote this afternoon, the House passed a “minibus” package of appropriations bills for fiscal year 2022, including those that fund conservation at the federal agencies overseeing agriculture, energy, water, the environment, and public lands.

Experts at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have scrutinized these funding levels and identified important increases in several areas, including drought resiliency, wetlands conservation, private land conservation, big game herd health, and habitat restoration in the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, and Upper Mississippi River watershed.

“We’re pleased to see the House supporting robust and increased investment in conservation at a time when public land visitation is up, participation in hunting and fishing is growing, and our natural resources face many challenges, including climate change, drought, development, invasive species, wildfire, and disease,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the TRCP. “We have to create certainty for the federal workers who keep hunters and anglers safe on our public lands and waters and give them the resources to improve habitat and stave off risk—rather than scramble to recover after losses or watch maintenance backlogs grow. This requires investment. We look forward to working with the Senate to secure these funding levels and seize additional opportunities to commit to conservation in fiscal year 2022.”

Some highlights of the appropriations package include:

  • $25 million for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Drought Response Program, which is $10 million more than FY21
  • $350 million for Army Corps construction projects within the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Program—an increase of $100 million over FY21, although less than half of what the TRCP and conservation partners had pushed for to expedite completion of authorized Everglades restoration projects
  • $50 million for North American Wetlands Conservation Act programs, up by $3.5 million
  • A $65-million bump in funding for conservation technical assistance available to private landowners who enhance habitat, bringing total program funding to $894 million
  • A $44-million increase for Bureau of Land Management habitat programs, bringing the total to $233 million
  • $33.5 million for Upper Mississippi River restoration
  • $15 million for Chesapeake Bay watershed restoration at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • $10 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to assist state agencies in CWD containment

While the funding measure takes an important step in growing federal investment in several areas important to wildlife, conservation needs continue to outpace funding. Challenges ranging from chronic wasting disease to drought are affecting hunters, anglers, landowners, and fish and wildlife. The TRCP looks forward to working with lawmakers in the Senate to support these critical funding needs for FY22 and years to come.

 

Photo by RimLight Media

Andrew Earl

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posted in: CWD

June 22, 2021

Three Recent CWD Outbreaks Highlight the Need for Meaningful Federal Action

The TRCP and partners have urged the Secretary of Agriculture to take two immediate steps to curb the spread of the fatal deer disease

In recent months, chronic wasting disease outbreaks at multiple captive deer operations have put wild deer at risk for infection. Last week, the TRCP was joined by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, National Deer Association, and National Wildlife Federation in calling on U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to take immediate action to curb the spread of CWD, especially considering its impact on the nation’s $40-billion annual deer hunting economy.

The following three events, which have forced states to undertake immediate and costly actions to address potential contaminations in the wild, are compelling motivation:

In May, the Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife Department took on a full epidemiological investigation to track the spread of CWD from three endemic breeding operations that shipped deer to more than 260 sites across the state. Despite the agency’s diligent efforts to combat the spread of CWD, tracking and testing so many animals once they have been shipped is extremely difficult, particularly since, according to reports, breeders have refused to test some of the suspected deer. As a result, the potential for unchecked transmission to wild herds remains.

Later that month, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced a CWD detection at a hunting facility in the northwestern part of the state—the first along the New York-Penn. border and outside of existing CWD management zones. The state is working hard to trace the deer’s origins but cannot say at this time if additional quarantines at any of the state’s 760 deer farms or hunting preserves will be necessary. While the detection will result in the establishment of a new disease management zone, the movement of deer between facilities has not been halted while the investigation moves forward.

Finally, on June 1, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources imposed a two-month ban on the movement of deer after 13 tested positive at a captive facility in the north woods—hundreds of miles from the state’s endemic CWD area. Biologists have determined that the deer were transported from an endemic facility in the southeastern corner of the state. Most shockingly, it became apparent during the investigation that the facility owner had been dumping infected deer carcasses on nearby public lands for several years. The dead deer had since been scavenged and spread across several acres. In response to the detection, the state approved $100,000 in emergency funding, and Governor Tim Walz has endorsed transferring oversight of the state’s captive whitetail deer from the state’s Board of Animal Health to the Department of Natural Resources.

The need for federal leadership and coordination on this crisis is highlighted by the fact that even a state like Texas, which has tough rules on CWD and an extremely capable wildlife management agency, has been unable to prevent the spread of the disease.

In a letter to Secretary Vilsack, our five groups representing millions of hunters, conservationists, and outdoor enthusiasts strongly urged two immediate courses of action:

First, we called on the USDA to implement a moratorium on the interstate movement of all live deer, as recommended by the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council as recently as last year. CWD has now been found in 26 states and on the borders of several more. We need to protect those states that have not yet detected the disease.

Second, we urged the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to convene an emergency meeting of the CWD interagency task force that was authorized by Congress in 2020 to develop an immediate federal response to contain CWD. This should include a third-party, independent review of the USDA Herd Certification Program, expedited research into the transmission pathways of CWD, recommend strategies for reducing the spread of CWD, and direct assistance for state surveillance, monitoring, and testing for the disease.

If you support these steps to safeguard wild deer and deer hunting as we know it, take action now. Send your message to Secretary Vilsack using our simple advocacy tool.

Top photo by Jessica Bolser/USFWS

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posted in: CWD

June 2, 2021

18 Hits (and a Few Misses) for Conservation in Biden’s Budget

The annual budget request, which guides Congress on administration priorities, emphasizes natural climate solutions but overlooks some critical Western water quality and quantity conservation efforts

Just before the Memorial Day weekend, the White House released its proposed fiscal year 2022 budget, which could push Congress to create new conservation programs and invest more heavily in existing efforts to restore fish and wildlife habitat.

The TRCP policy team has read the proposal with an eye toward some of the most important line items for fish and wildlife conservation. First, the Biden budget proposal makes some of the most meaningful investments targeted at addressing climate change we’ve ever seen, taking a refreshing “whole of government approach” and mobilizing the entire federal government to take climate-smart actions.

The White House also recommended increasing investments in many priorities important to sportsmen and sportswomen, including improving public land access and reconnecting fragmented habitats.

“For the first time ever, a president’s budget is sent to Congress that places action on climate change right where it belongs: front and center,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “It is refreshing to see investments in forest health, the national wildlife refuge system, full implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act, and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, among many other positive developments.”

“Congress holds the power of the pursestrings and will ultimately decide how to fund conservation with this proposal in mind, and we look forward to working with decision-makers to invest in critical areas of need, including water quality, climate-resilient habitat, private land conservation, public access to outdoor recreation, and conservation jobs,” says Fosburgh.

Here are the team’s major takeaways in four key areas.

migration corridors
Photo courtesy of Sara Domek.
Climate Change

The president’s budget lays out a “whole of government” approach to tackling the climate crisis, with more than $36 billion in investments for FY22—an increase of more than $14 billion compared to this year. This funding would support new programs or enhance existing efforts through conservation, planning, technical assistance, and research, while actively creating jobs. The plan’s emphasis on ecosystem resilience and research is good news for fish and wildlife habitat that could be improved to capture and sequester more carbon while boosting our hunting and fishing opportunities.

Other key line items:

  • An additional $325 million for forest health programs at the Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture to mitigate the risks and impacts of catastrophic wildfires. This includes $20 million in new funding for Healthy Forests Reserve Program which helps landowners restore, enhance, and protect forest resources on private lands to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, improve biodiversity enhance carbon sequestration.
  • $914 million for climate-smart agriculture practices (see Private Land section below), including $161 million to help private landowners integrate science-based tools into conservation planning for carbon sequestration.
  • $500 million in new dedicated funding for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, which helps communities proactively use the power of habitat to lessen the impacts of future storms and other disasters. This was one of the priorities identified by the TRCP’s coalition pushing for conservation solutions that put Americans back to work in the wake of the pandemic.

Learn more about the climate provisions supported by the TRCP-led Conservationists for Climate Solutions coalition.

Photo by Kyle Mlynar
Public Land

The president’s budget proposal recognizes the value of migration corridors and modernizing public land access data so that outdoor recreation is truly accessible to all. It would also fund important place-based efforts to conserve iconic American fish and wildlife resources. Perhaps most importantly, a little more than $59 million has been proposed for improving recreational access across Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service lands. This is a decrease from $67.5 million in FY21, but it far exceeds the $27-million minimum for access projects set by the 2019 John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act.

Other key line items:

  • A $6.1-million increase for the Bureau of Land Management to address habitat fragmentation and advance efforts “to identify, protect, conserve, and restore functional, landscape-level wildlife migration, dispersal, and daily movement corridors.”
  • An $82-million increase for the National Wildlife Refuge System to help address staffing and upkeep needs for some of the nation’s best public lands. The $584 million budget set in the president’s request is the largest-ever proposed for the refuge system, which could also be open to more hunting and fishing than ever before under this administration.
  • A $28-million increase for BLM Resource Management Planning that would enable the agency to update decades-old land management plans that could be used to conserve big game migration corridors and winter range, manage and support outdoor recreation, and expand and provide access for millions of Americans.
  • No new resources were proposed to support the Corridors Mapping Team at the U.S. Geological Survey, which is responsible for working with state agencies to map migration corridors, but agency officials on a June 2 briefing call did commit to continue funding this work through the Cooperative Research Unit program. The TRCP hopes to see the USGS corridors mapping work expanded in the future.
Photo by Tim Donovan/FWC.
Private Land

The president is proposing a $2.6-billion increase—or a 9-percent bump—to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s discretionary budget, which includes $914 million to support the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and forestry. But the full USDA budget is projected to shrink by almost $17.4 billion, to $198 billion, after the sunset of COVID-19 emergency support payments.

The White House is seeking an increase of $43 million for more technical assistance to landowners through the Natural Resource Conservation Service, which is critical to enabling agricultural producers, conservation districts, and local officials to make informed decisions about conservation planning. The TRCP supports this increase, but more funding is needed to enable the tidal changes in land stewardship that the administration has promised.

Other key line items:

  • Level funding, or $175 million, for the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Program.
  • USDA will increase resources for CWD research, although it has not shared a specific funding level at this time.
  • No cuts to USDA mandatory program spending, which includes the suite of conservation programs included in the farm bill.
Photo by Lael P. Johnson
Water Resources

In the water space, the president’s budget is, unfortunately, a mixed bag for hunters and anglers. Overall, the Bureau of Reclamation’s budget is cut by almost 10 percent from FY21 funding levels, and WaterSMART—a critical program for restoring fish habitat and developing solutions to water shortage issues brought on by drought, aging infrastructure, and agriculture and population strains—is cut by nearly 63 percent in what seems like a glaring oversight. This represents the smallest investment in WaterSMART since 2015, down from $55 million in FY21 to roughly $15 million in the current proposal.

“The TRCP has long championed solutions to water supply crises in Western states and, more broadly, proposals that improve both water quality and quantity across the country,” says Melinda Kassen, TRCP’s senior counsel and interim water resources director. “We look forward to working with Congress to make sure that these programs receive adequate funding as the FY22 budget process unfolds, and we appreciate the cooperation of both Congress and the administration to support and fund these mission-critical water initiatives.”

Some other water programs did see increases, and funding for the Environmental Protection Agency increased substantially across the board.

Other key line items:

  • A modest $3-million increase for the EPA’s “319” program, which provides grants to projects that help rivers and streams withstand the impacts of polluted runoff.
  • A large additional outlay of $232 million for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, including the Green Project Reserve for natural infrastructure, water efficiency, and other environmentally innovative projects.
  • An additional $580 million for initiatives to remediate orphan wells and abandoned mineswhere heavy metals and acidic runoff cause water quality issues—tripling the current annual discretionary funding for these purposes. The proposal also includes $165 million for the Abandoned Mine Land and Economic Revitalization program, which will help accelerate remediation and reclamation work on Department of Interior lands.
  • $340 million for Great Lakes restoration, which is $10 million over FY21 enacted levels.
  • $90 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program to continue leading on the restoration of the Bay.
  • $350 million for the Central Everglades Restoration Program is less than half of what the TRCP and others would like to see, but it’s still an increase of almost $100 million over FY21. Here’s where the massive Everglades restoration effort stood at the end of 2020.

Andrew Earl

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posted in: CWD

May 19, 2021

Three Ways States Use Federal Funding to Control CWD

Without dedicated investments, these essential efforts by state wildlife managers wouldn’t be successful

Day-to-day efforts to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease among wild deer and elk require a significant dedication of resources from state departments of natural resources and wildlife agencies. Unfortunately, it has become common to redirect funding and personnel from other ongoing conservation programs to manage a steady stream of outreach, surveillance, and testing needs.

And this strain on bandwidth has only grown as CWD has broken new ground, expanding the need for hunter education and outreach, testing capacity, data management, and more. As of January 2021, the disease was present in 339 counties across 25 states.

The most immediate and direct way to make an impact in containing CWD is to provide state agencies with the resources and capacity to meet the disease head on. That’s why it was a big win in fiscal year 2020, when the TRCP and its partners succeeded in pushing Congress to spend $5 million to support CWD management in the states.

We have since shared concerns about how some of those dollars were administered. But that’s not to say that there was no impact on wild deer. The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks was one of 15 state wildlife agencies to be awarded cooperative agreement funding, securing nearly $214,000 to support targeted surveillance and hunter outreach efforts across the state.

Using South Dakota as a case study, it’s clear why CWD response funding should continue to be made available by Congress. Here are the three ways that the Game, Fish, and Parks Department made the most of these dollars.

Increased Surveillance

Based on the natural movement of deer across the landscape, the Department ranked and prioritized sampling efforts, including non-endemic areas within 25 miles of known CWD “hot” zones. To do so, they provided tribal governments, taxidermists, processors, and other relevant private businesses with a modest incentive to submit samples for testing from deer harvested over the course of the 2020 season. The agency provided processors with sampling ID tags, established collection stations near processing kiosks, and provided hunters with incentives for sample submission, including by covering the cost of testing.

Public Outreach

Deer and elk hunters provide the lion’s share of harvested deer samples and are an invaluable management partner in the fight against the disease. Hunter education and outreach are vital to this cooperative management effort and our thorough understanding of the scope of the disease on the landscape.

Supported by the federal funding, the Department of Game, Fish, and Parks issued mailers and used targeted emails to contact hunting license holders within priority surveillance areas and urge them to get their deer tested. The Department developed and shared a video on how to properly remove tissue samples for testing, used its licensing databases to expedite notifying hunters of test results through email and worked alongside a communications consultant to amplify their messages across the web.

They also contacted taxidermists, processors, and waste management providers to alert them to updated carcass transportation and disposal regulations. Throughout the season, GFP staff were active in doing media interviews and podcasts, providing updates to partner agencies and responding to questions from resident and non-resident hunters alike.

There’s little doubt that the increased visibility by the agency and urgency felt by deer hunters seeing the emails, web, and social media ads was converted in some degree to testing samples being submitted. Considering the influx of non-resident hunters each season, there’s also a likelihood that the information stopped the inadvertent improper transportation or disposal of a CWD-positive deer.

Analysis and Response

The bump in testing helped the agency identify CWD-positive deer in four additional counties—there are now 16 counties on watch statewide. Particularly notable is detection in Sully County, the first positive in the state east of the Missouri River. In total, the South Dakota tested over 1,700 deer, elk, and moose in 2020, with 49 testing positive for CWD.
As a result of such strong levels of sampling, wildlife managers can refine statistical analysis in the coming year and have already taken action to update carcass transportation and disposal rules.

Investing in the Future of Deer and Hunting

Congressional funding supported CWD management activities at 15 state wildlife agencies in 2020. Unfortunately, CWD has been detected in 25 states, so the gap is wide. In order to get ahead of the spread of this disease, which threatens not only deer hunting but also the $40 billion in economic activity directly tied to hunting, the TRCP and our partners are calling on Congress to grow this important funding stream to $15 million in fiscal year 2022. This will help enhance existing efforts to respond to the disease, supply other states with resources they desperately need, and provide a safety net in places where the spread of CWD is, unfortunately, imminent.

Learn more about CWD and the need for federal investment here.

 

Top photo by National Deer Association

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