With growing CWD costs that threaten to undermine other conservation efforts, state agencies need Congress to act in the next few weeks to better support disease management and research
Beyond the threat it poses to hunters and wildlife, chronic wasting disease represents a growing cost to state agencies, especially during hunting season. A new peer-reviewed report published in the November/December 2022 issue of The Wildlife Professional starts to quantify these costs for the first time.
Report authors Noelle E. Thompson, of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and J. Russ Mason, with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, found that, on average, state wildlife agencies in 16 CWD-positive states spent $773,000 annually on disease management. This includes sample collection and disposal, testing, salaries, supplies, and logistics.
The data was collected in a national survey conducted with help from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. All 50 states were invited to participate, and 32 states were able to compile and return their data for the most recent fiscal year. Across these 32 wildlife agencies—including those in states where CWD has yet to be detected—the annual costs associated with CWD ranged from just under $8,000 (Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation) to north of $2 million (Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife), for an average of $503,000 per state.
Currently, the federal government invests just $10 million per year in CWD management through cooperative agreements between state and Tribal agencies and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come close to addressing the urgent need on the landscape.
CWD represents the greatest threat to the future of deer hunting—should participation drop, there would be significant ripple effects on state wildlife agency budgets and local economies. The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reported in 2017 that more than 58 percent of the collective annual budget for state wildlife agencies was generated by hunting and fishing activities. Deer hunting generated approximately $23.4 billion in overall economic activity in 2020, according to Southwick Associates.
To date, 30 U.S. states have confirmed cases of CWD in free-ranging and/or captive cervids—12 states have joined that list in the last ten years alone.
“State wildlife agencies have identified wildlife disease, and CWD in particular, as the most important existential challenge confronting agencies in the 21st century,” write Thompson and Mason. “Many agencies remain unequipped or under-equipped to meet this challenge. New funding models that adequately support disease surveillance and management are essential in order to protect the species and habitat restoration achievements of the 20th century.”
Fortunately, Congress is poised to take action to address CWD. If passed, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act would triple the federal resources authorized to be made available to state agencies for CWD suppression and help scientists answer some of the many questions that remain about disease solutions.
Hunters and conservationists are pushing for lawmakers to close the deal on this important legislative solution in the next few weeks—before the end of the 117th Congress. The bill sailed through the House late last year and was introduced by senators in April 2022.
If they can make the time, lawmakers have the overwhelming support of the public: In a 2022 poll, 88 percent of American voters said they support additional federal investment in CWD management at the state level. Take action now to send the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act to the finish line and secure the future of our wild deer herds.