Chronic Wasting Disease, Featured

More to Chronic Wasting Disease Than Deer Farms

More to Chronic Wasting Disease Than Deer Farms

I’d like to respond to falsehoods in a recent article about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The Missouri Department of Conservation is doing a disservice to all landowners and hunters by obsessively attacking deer farmers over CWD. While CWD was first detected on a deer farm in Missouri before being found in free-ranging deer in the surrounding area, that does not tell us where the disease came from. Was CWD spread to the farm by free-ranging deer, or vice versa?

With the deer farms testing 100% of their mortalities and not finding any more cases, and MDC testing less than 1% of the harvested deer and finding 75 cases, most experts in disease issues will tell you it was more apt to have been transferred from the wild deer to the deer farm.

Arkansas offers a lesson. In 2015, CWD was found for the first time in Arkansas, in a part of the state where there are no deer farms. Subsequent testing found it in scores of free-ranging deer. Some experts believe CWD existed, quietly, for years without being detected, due to the fact that they had stopped testing any significant numbers back in 2002, as had Missouri.

Contrast that with deer farms, which conduct mandatory testing of all eligible animals if they move deer across state lines. Deer farms are the “canary in the coal mine” for CWD moving into an area because they are constantly testing for CWD, but that doesn’t mean they are the source.

Further, the idea that a culling strategy will work is bogus. Wisconsin spent $30 million on an eradication and prevalence reduction strategy in CWD affected areas, and the deer herd grew by 40 percent in those areas in the subsequent years. CWD was found in Wisconsin in 2002, and since then the herd has doubled in two of the most highly infected counties, and there has been no reduction in the prevalence of the disease.

CWD is a slow-acting disease that can incubate for years. CWD has not proven to have any significant impact on the wild cervid populations in CWD endemic states such as Colorado or Wisconsin as stated on record by wildlife agencies. Science has shown that the decline in the mule deer populations over the past few years in these western states have been from urban sprawl, drought, depredation, human environmental intervention and over-hunting.

For years, MDC has failed to prioritize testing of hunter-harvested deer for CWD. The agency needs to conduct more testing so that hunters know exactly where Chronic Wasting Disease is prevalent. The agency should also strictly enforce a ban on bringing in carcasses from CWD-positive areas, as that is one easy way for CWD to spread from one area to another. But it’s time to stop the politically motivated blame-game against deer farms.