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As most hunters are aware, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal disease spread by misfolded proteins called “prions” that affects elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer. First detected in Colorado in 1967, CWD has spread to at least 32 states, including two new states (Oklahoma and Florida) in the past month! CWD has major repercussions for herd health, and there is precedence for other diseases of this type crossing the “species barrier” and affecting humans. Because of the threat CWD presents to deer hunting, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) sponsored and attended the 4th International Chronic Wasting Disease Conference in Denver, CO from May 31 – June 2, 2023. The conference brought together leading researchers, federal and state agency personnel, NGO, and industry representatives to discuss cutting edge science, share management successes, and learn from failures.
It would be impossible to fully describe several days of scientific presentations and panel discussions in the space we have here, so here are my Top 5 Takeaways from the 4th International Chronic Wasting Disease Conference.
When it comes to CWD management, hunters must be a big part of the solution. When state or Tribal agencies use the best available science to create a CWD strategy, hunters must step up and help implement that strategy.
A key component of CWD management is simply promoting overall herd health. In many parts of the country, that requires reducing herd numbers and densities to sustainable levels. Not only can this help grow big, healthy bucks, but it also means hunters get to take more does. I don’t know about you, but any chance I get to solve a problem by hunting more is a chance I’m going to take.
At a minimum, hunters should follow CWD regulations, including being sure not to move deer or elk heads and spines from CWD affected areas. We also should not spread information about CWD without verifying its accuracy.
When agencies no longer consider hunters a partner in CWD management, we lose our seat at the table, and whoever replaces us is unlikely to have our interests in mind.
Too many live deer are moved around the country every day. Herd certification protocols have failed to prevent the spread of CWD among captive facilities. Testing requirements are too often ignored and when CWD is discovered in a captive herd it is sometimes ignored or covered up. If we are going to continue to allow deer and elk farming in the era of CWD, we must make sure that the industry holds up their end of the bargain. It was great to see representatives of the captive deer industry participating in this conference; let’s hope they take the next step and become part of the solution.
Hunters must step up here as well. The best thing we can do is debone deer in the field and avoid transporting skulls, spines, and lymph nodes.
CWD is a challenging disease, but we can manage around it.
CWD prions can exist in the environment for years, bind to soil and plants, and spread very quickly. Multiple factors compound this challenge: CWD testing is not cheap, carcass-side tests need improvement, vaccines have not been successful, and breeding resistant animals has not made great strides (not to mention the fact that it has no applicability to wild deer). The silver bullet we have been looking for since CWD was first identified probably does not exist.
It had been 14 years since this conference was last held, and as you might imagine, a lot of work has been done to better understand and manage CWD since 2009. There is tremendous value in getting all parties involved, including hunters, in the same place for a few days. If we want to make a dent in CWD, we need to make such gatherings happen more often. By continuing to learn more about this disease and collaborating, we can continue to put what we already know into action. That is why the TRCP worked to get the CWD Research and Management Act passed, and why we continue to work to ensure it is funded. It’s also why we continue to advocate for hunting as a CWD management tool and continue to remind hunters that managing CWD means better hunting.
No one wants to be patient zero. Get your deer tested and demand that your state make testing easier.
One bright spot in the conference were the presentations reinforcing a lack of evidence for humans contracting prion disease from deer. Hunters in areas with long-term CWD currently do not show higher rates of prion disease than the general population, and even people who consumed meat from infected animals have not shown higher rates of disease. So far, the “species barrier” that prevents a CWD prion from affecting humans appears to be holding up. That is great news, but it does not mean we are out of the woods. Prion disease has spread across species, including to humans, in the past, and human prion diseases can take years or decades to become symptomatic.
The CDC still recommends that we do not consume meat from infected animals, so get your deer tested if you are hunting where CWD is prevalent. If testing is difficult or expensive in your state, make sure your elected officials know that this is important to you and to the future of deer hunting.
If we are going to make a dent in CWD, eradicate it, or even learn to live with it, we need to keep learning more about it. Researchers across the country, and even around the world, are working to better understand how CWD spreads, what leads to the most spread, where pathways to human disease exist, and how overall herd health can be maintained. Right now, there is still a massive shortage of funding to do this type of research, creating a bottleneck between a problem and its solutions. There are also onerous requirements for researchers that prevent them from doing CWD research in the first place.
Researchers know what is preventing them from getting answers, and the TRCP and our partners are taking that knowledge and using our policy expertise to remove roadblocks. This is how we will make sure we have the information hunters and agencies need to maintain healthy deer herds and great deer hunting.
Federal agency commits at least $500 million over five years for Working Lands for Wildlife
Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its intention to direct at least $500 million over a five-year period to benefit fish and wildlife habitat on private lands across much of the nation.
“Today’s announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture will support America’s hardworking private landowners when they do good things for fish and wildlife,” said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “About 60 percent of the land base in the United States is privately owned, and these lands often represent the most productive fish and wildlife habitat—their conservation is critical.”
The Working Lands for Wildlife model uses a landscape-level planning approach to restore and conserve wildlife habitat efficiently, over large areas. These USDA funds will be directed through this approach by utilizing the Farm Bill’s voluntary and incentive based Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to keep working lands working while conserving critical fish and wildlife habitat. At least $40 million will be dedicated to conserving migratory big game habitat through partnerships in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.
“With today’s announcement, USDA has committed to additional funding, broader geographic scope, longer term planning, and better coordination between the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency toward wildlife habitat goals,” continued Fosburgh. “All of this adds up to great news for hunters and anglers.”
The BLM’s plan includes balanced management for conservation on important public lands
Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management released the Proposed Final Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan Amendment that—when finalized—will guide land management decisions for more than 4.6 million acres of Oregon’s most scenic and recreationally important public lands overseen by the BLM’s Vale District office within the Owyhee and Malheur River country.
This significant step forward in the planning process will help determine how habitat conservation, outdoor recreation opportunities, grazing, and development will be balanced on BLM land. In the proposed final plan, the BLM has offered a management approach that incorporates recommendations made by the agency’s Southeast Oregon Resource Advisory Council, a group of 15 individuals selected by the BLM to represent diverse backgrounds who worked together for more than five years to develop recommendations. Under the plan, about 420,000 acres in the 4.6-million-acre district will be managed for their wild, backcountry characteristics and the wildlife habitat value they provide.
“A broad-based BLM advisory group rolled up their sleeves to create a well-rounded alternative within the Southeast Oregon RMP amendment, and we applaud the BLM for incorporating many of their recommendations in this proposed final plan,” said Michael O’Casey, deputy director for the Pacific Northwest with the TRCP. “We appreciate the BLM making changes to adopt a balanced alternative in the final plan that conserves special places from development, while ensuring continued access for hunting and fishing, habitat restoration, and ranching.”
Popular public lands in eastern Oregon help fuel the state’s $2.5 billion fish-and-wildlife-based economy, provide important wildlife habitat, and support other multiple uses. The Vale District manages most of the public lands within the Beulah (65), Malheur River (66), Owyhee (67), and Whitehorse (68) hunting units.
“Oregon’s Owyhee region is a critically important hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation area,” said Karl Findling, owner of Oregon Pack Works who grew up in Malheur County. “I appreciate that the BLM made changes that do right by sportsmen and businesses who depend on the management of these lands to safeguard some of the best wildlife habitat and hunting areas in the state.”
“The BLM has an opportunity to safeguard some of Oregon’s best hunting areas and wildlife habitat through these land-use plans, and do it in a balanced way,” said Chris Hager, Northwest Chapter coordinator for the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “We’re supportive of the proposed final plan and see it as a win-win for the varied wildlife we love to pursue. Proper management that includes conservation measures such as what’s proposed helps ensure that our valued hunting heritage, outdoor traditions, and way of life can be enjoyed by future generations.”
Now that the proposed final is published, the agency has opened a 30-day protest period. Governor Kotek has 60 days to review the plan for consistency with state policy, after which the plan will be finalized.
“Sportsmen and sportswomen will continue to weigh-in as these planning processes move forward,” continued O’Casey. “We are encouraged with the direction the BLM is going, and we support this plan as it moves toward the finish line.”
Photo Credit: Tyler Roemer
S. 1890 would provide needed funding for local economic development, and help protect and restore the sage brush steppe
S. 1890 was reintroduced on June 8th by Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. Senator Wyden spearheaded the bill in 2019 through a series of stakeholder meetings, which resulted in a bill that promotes the long-term ecological health of the region while providing support for economic development and continued traditional and recreational uses of public lands.
If passed, this bill would permanently protect fish and wildlife habitat on over a million acres in southeast Oregon. This region includes the Owyhee River, the Trout Creek Mountains, and key winter range and habitat for big game, chukar, and other species that offer prime hunting and outdoor related activities which sustain thousands of jobs.
The Owyhee Sportsmen Coalition members know this region well and understand the value it holds for sportsmen and women across Oregon. The coalition supports any approach that ensures the region’s open spaces and incredible fish and wildlife resources are managed in a balanced way.
“We want to thank Senator Wyden for introducing this legislation that has been vetted with input from local sportsmen, ranchers, conservationists, and decision-makers,” said Jim Akenson, state board member for the Oregon Hunters Association. “We look forward to working with Congressman Bentz and others to further build upon this bill and find the best way forward for this unique corner of Oregon.”
“For generations, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and mule deer hunts in places along the Owyhee River have been a favorite for sportsmen and sportswomen,” said Kevin Martin, state board member for the Oregon Wild Sheep Foundation. “This bill provides a key opportunity to do right by sportsmen and the fish and wildlife we depend on by safeguarding this iconic winter range and wild, backcountry landscape long into the future.”
“Our organizations support the multiple uses of public land in this region and recognize that good stewardship means sustainable ranching, wildlife habitat management, public access, and meaningful resource conservation,” said Michael O’Casey, deputy director of the Pacific Northwest region for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Our goal is passage of legislation that supports rural economies, respects local interests, protects and restores the ecological health of the Owyhee landscape, and ensures that our hunting and angling traditions continue for generations.”
“I was born and raised in Malheur County and continue to visit the Owyhee Canyonlands to recreate in many forms,” said Karl Findling, regional director for the Oregon Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. “This is an incredible landscape in need of restoration, protection, and additional financial resources within one of Oregon’s last best places and we’re excited to see this bill move forward in Congress.”
“This legislation shows what can happen when stakeholders sit down together and find common ground,” said Michael Gibson, field coordinator for Trout Unlimited. “The real winner in all of this is the land and the fish and wildlife that live there. If passed, future generations of hunters and anglers will get to enjoy robust populations of Redband rainbow trout, chukar, pronghorn, mule deer and California bighorn sheep, while ranchers get the flexibility their operations need to be viable into the future.”
Photo Credit: Sage Brown
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More