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Andrew Earl

October 19, 2021

New Legislation Introduced to Study and Help Stop the Spread of CWD

The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act provides a bipartisan avenue for hunters, wildlife managers, and captive industry stakeholders to address the growing threat posed by the disease

Today, Representatives Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) introduced legislation to address a host of state and federal needs in the fight to contain the spread of chronic wasting disease. CWD remains the top threat to the future of deer hunting in the U.S.

The TRCP applauds the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act, which is the result of several months of discussion and debate among wildlife partners and captive industry stakeholders. The legislation would expand the federal government’s role in the fight to address CWD in four key ways:

  • By authorizing $35 million annually for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to partner with state wildlife and agriculture agencies for CWD management activities. Learn how states use these funds here.
  • By authorizing another $35 million annually for CWD research. Specifically, research grants will focus on improved testing techniques, long-term suppression strategies, environmental transmission factors, and more.
  • By directing the USDA to solicit feedback for improvements to the Herd Certification Program, which accredits captive operations as “low-risk” for CWD contamination.
  • By requiring the USDA to develop, maintain, and publicize educational materials on CWD best practices and precautions based on the best-available science.

“The threat posed by CWD to deer hunting in America is difficult to overstate—for too long, funding woes, research questions, and ineffectual enforcement have resulted in a worsening status quo,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Curbing the accelerated spread of this disease each year requires an all-encompassing effort that can only be achieved by the pragmatic, bipartisan approach in this bill. The TRCP and our partners are grateful for the leadership of Representatives Kind and Thompson and look forward to working alongside both lawmakers to bring this critical legislation to passage.”

To learn more about CWD and how to get involved, read our latest blog.

Photo by Kirsten Strough courtesy of the USDA.

4 Responses to “New Legislation Introduced to Study and Help Stop the Spread of CWD”

  1. Judy Gardner

    Funding should instead be directed to US Fish and Wildlife. USDA mission of promoting safety in the deer farming industry has served only to protect those who make money by exploiting our natural resource the white-tailed deer. Records are concealed from the public, deer are being raised fir their trophy value then sold across state lines to get around USDA rules surrounding humane dispatch, and already provides financial incentives to promote the growth of this industry.
    We do not need to offer that agency – which is highly subject to lobbying influence- more money.

  2. Edward Christoffers

    For way too long this issues has been poorly addressed. One of the significant problems is the separation of management of the wild herd and the captive breeding farms. Much of the early spread can be traced to the movement of captive animals. If this new Legislation leads to better cooperation between these two groups it will make a major improvement.

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Whit Fosburgh

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.

Andrew Wilkins

August 24, 2021

What Is Budget Reconciliation and How Can This Process Do More for Conservation?

Breaking down the budget process that will make or break the effort to secure once-in-a-generation investments in habitat

As we’ve shared over the past few weeks, the Senate has passed a once-in-a-generation infrastructure package that would provide significant funding for conservation priorities, including wildlife crossings, national forest road repair and maintenance, drought and climate resilience, clean water, and habitat restoration.

But leading lawmakers aren’t planning to advance this legislation without a budget reconciliation bill that invests in conservation and climate-smart measures at the same time. This means that hunters and anglers need to not only push Congress to carry the decade-defining infrastructure package across the finish line, but also urge decision-makers to include robust funding for conservation in this other crucial bill—which, as it stands, leaves out some essential habitat programs.

So, what is reconciliation?

Reconciliation refers to a special, Senate-driven step in the budget-making process that is typically only possible when the same party controls both Congress and the White House.

When the Senate passes an annual budget resolution, it can include instructions to align—or reconcile—spending priorities with a particular objective. These instructions direct changes in spending, revenues, deficits, or the debt limit by specific amounts to pursue a specific policy agenda. In the past, this process has been used by both parties to lower taxes, adjust social safety net programs, and change health care and education law.

This time around, the intention is to significantly increase funding for conservation priorities, which is why hunters and anglers need to weigh in.

Unfortunately, though conservation funding and priorities still enjoy broad support by both Republicans and Democrats, this is not a bipartisan process. But it’s still important for hunters and anglers to speak up and alert the Senate and House Democrats driving this bill to the full scope of opportunities for fish and wildlife conservation success.

Here are five major priorities we’re still pushing for.

Overall Funding for the Department of the Interior

Early reports indicate that draft reconciliation instructions do not include adequate funding for the Department of the Interior. This is troubling, since the original goal of this process is to commit more funding to respond to critical conservation challenges facing our nation, many of which will be tackled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Geological Survey, and Bureau of Reclamation—all agencies that could miss out if Congress doesn’t commit more funding to Interior. Bureau of Land Management lands alone account for nearly half of the nationwide acres experiencing fire or drought, not to mention an overwhelming amount of hunting and fishing opportunities in the western United States.

If Congress is serious about making a historic investment in conservation, lawmakers must ensure that Interior’s topline for funding is increased so that these funds can go to agencies that sportsmen and sportswomen rely on to restore and protect critical public lands and waters.

Wetlands Restoration Funds

Hunters and anglers will benefit from doubling funding for one key program at Interior: the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has successfully restored nearly 30 million acres of waterfowl habitat in the last 30 years. This program has resulted in billions of dollars being invested in wetlands conservation, and the return on investment has been proven. That’s why we’re encouraging budget negotiators to not only increase funding for Interior, but also to make sure that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives double the annual funding for this signature conservation program.

Private Land Conservation Efforts

We also request that lawmakers double the conservation investments in the Farm Bill through the reconciliation process. Demand for conservation on 13.8 million acres of private land goes unmet each year because of inadequate funding for the Farm Bill’s most popular and effective conservation programs. That means nearly 40 percent of all applications submitted for Farm Bill conservation programs cannot be enrolled. Congress should use this opportunity to double the reach of these programs and ramp up the on-the-ground technical support provided to farmers, ranchers, and forest-owners as they work to boost fish and wildlife habitat on their lands.

Support for Bedrock Conservation Policy

As I mentioned above, a decade-defining infrastructure package is tied to reconciliation, and once this legislation passes, it will kickstart a boom in necessary infrastructure upgrades and innovative new projects. This is a good thing! But with all of this activity comes a need to make sure that habitat will not be impacted by development. This can only be done through thorough and timely reviews directed by our bedrock conservation laws, which make sure that projects in and around public lands and waters don’t cause undue harm to fish and wildlife.

Reconciliation funding for the Department of the Interior currently overlooks the increased investments needed to build capacity for the deluge of new projects. Without the ability to complete these studies in both a timely and thorough manner, this will slow down the construction of new infrastructure projects and could threaten our lands, waters, and wildlife. Lawmakers should support and invest in the agencies that carefully manage fish and wildlife resources in balance with essential infrastructure projects.

Conserving Water in the Colorado River Basin

Finally, Congress has the chance to help build resiliency in the Colorado River Basin in two ways. First, Congress should fund the ecosystem and water supply projects needed to comply with our treaty with Mexico, with whom we share the river. Second—not just for the Basin but across the West—Congress must boost funding for the U.S. Geological Survey so that they can continue to provide information on river flows and snowpack levels to do the modeling and scientific analysis that will help us develop more sustainable water-use strategies. The USGS is a critical, and often underfunded, conservation agency. It’s important that Congress supports their mission so that they can, in turn, inform important water, wildlife, and habitat restoration efforts.

Hunters and anglers, particularly in key House districts, can make an impact by sharing these urgent asks directly with target lawmakers. Click here to use our simple advocacy tool now.

Jared Romero

June 24, 2021

Amplifying Latino Voices for Conservation and Greater Inclusion in Hunting

Latino residents of Colorado with varying levels of experience and interest in hunting gathered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and conservation organizations to help explore ways to better recruit, retain, and reactivate diverse sportsmen and sportswomen—the future of conservation

Our work at the TRCP is grounded in partnership and the goal of uniting and amplifying the voices of sportsmen and sportswomen who share a commitment to the future of America’s legacy of conservation, habitat, and access.

In that spirit, this spring we worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife as well as a Colorado-based nonprofit consultancy, the Meridian Institute, to host a stakeholder roundtable of Latino hunters and conservationists with the aim of better understanding how state fish and game agencies can more effectively engage with this growing community.

The Future of Hunting and Fishing

As one of the top three fastest growing populations in the United States, the Latino community has an important role to play in the future of our country’s hunting and conservation traditions. This is especially true in Colorado, where the Latino population is expected to grow from 20 percent to 33 percent in the next 20 years, and 77.2 percent of those individuals are native-born Coloradans. Nationwide, Latinos indicate that they regularly participate in outdoor activities: 77 percent hike, 46 percent camp and 33 percent hunt and fish. Latinos polled in Western states also strongly support conservation:

  • 96 percent agree that we should fund modernizing water infrastructure and restoring natural areas for drought resiliency.
  • 93 percent support the creation of new national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and tribal protected areas.
  • 93 percent agree that despite state budget shortfalls we should fund the protection of state land, water and wildlife.
  • 83 percent support a national goal of conserving 30 percent of lands and water by 2030.
  • 71 percent agree that Western wildfires have increased urgency.

These shared conservation values were central to the roundtable’s work. Participants had diverse backgrounds and levels of experience with hunting, ranging from lifelong, multi-generational hunters to participants with an interest in becoming a hunter but who face systemic barriers as they try to enter into the hunting community. The roundtable discussions were informed by an assessment by TRCP of retention, recruitment, and reactivation (R3) programs in several states: Colorado, Texas, Florida, and South Carolina.

The goals of these convenings were to identify opportunities, challenges, and tangible recommendations for how CPW and other state wildlife agencies can enhance its current engagement efforts to effectively engage the Latino communities.

The two roundtable convenings allowed for open dialogue between CPW and Latino hunters, providing an opportunity for each to learn more about the other, exchange information about conservation and recruitment efforts on both sides, and discuss how sportsmen and sportswomen from Latino and non-Latino communities can come together to better support conservation.

What We Learned

The Latino Hunter Roundtable provided CPW with several recommendations:

  • Ensure that the agency has greater transparency surrounding the license draw process, why regulations exist, and how the collection of demographic data will assist the agency in designing inclusive engagement programs.
  • Continue the translation of hunting regulations and its website into various languages, as they have done with the fishing regulations. Translation of pertinent information also communicates to the community an openness that they are welcome to participate in that space.
  • Celebrate and share stories of Latino hunters, as well as other demographics, so there is a larger awareness of participation and knowledge of hunting conservation in diverse communities.

Additional recommendations from the Roundtable are being collated into a toolkit that can be utilized by CPW and other state wildlife agencies to recruit, retain, and reactivate new audiences into hunting and conservation. The toolkit will be presented to state wildlife agencies, at national meetings and made available over the summer and fall.

The TRCP and CPW understand that conservation works best when we work together. To ensure that conservation, hunting, and angling stay relevant to future generations, it is critical that we continue to mentor family, friends, and neighbors in ways that resonate with them. Hunting has long been about community and shared experiences in the field, around a fire, or at the dinner table, and together we will continue to guarantee that all Americans have quality places to hunt and fish.

Top photo by Tim Donovan

Andrew Earl

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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As our nation rebounds from the COVID pandemic, policymakers are considering significant investments in infrastructure. Hunters and anglers see this as an opportunity to create conservation jobs, restore habitat, and boost fish and wildlife populations.

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