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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first identified in Colorado in captive mule deer in the late 1960s. Nearly 40 years later in approximately 2002, the first utterance of CWD was heard among the ranks of the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR). With a case turning up in nearby West Virginia, the VDWR began research and planning to prevent the disease from crossing the state line. I was an employee at the time and recall sampling and the agency releasing regulations on transporting carcasses into the state, but it was likely too late. CWD was detected in Shenandoah County, Virginia within a year or two.
At the same time, CWD was threatening other states and gaining federal attention. The US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Interior, and 24 other universities and state fish and wildlife agencies convened to draft the Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids.
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Sparing lengthy details of the disease, it’s worth repeating that it’s a highly infectious protein mutation that affects nervous tissue in Cervids – deer, elk, moose, etc. The effects of the disease are captured by its namesake – wasting or starvation due to mental and physical impairment.
With positive cases found in Idaho in December 2021, CWD has now been detected in 27 US states and four Canadian provinces in free-ranging and/or captive animals, marking the perfect time for the new Chronic Wasting Disease Management and Research Act to drop on Capitol Hill.
“The legislation calls for an annual $70-million investment through fiscal year 2028 on an even split of CWD management and research priorities. It also includes authorization for federal, state, and Tribal agencies to develop educational materials to inform the public on CWD and directs the US Department of Agriculture to review its Herd Certification Program, which accredits captive operations as ‘low-risk’ for CWD contamination but has proven inadequate to stem the spread of the disease” writes Krysten Brady of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
A 393-33 vote on December 8th passed the Act through the US House of Representatives, which is one step closer to expanding federal support to control the fatal wildlife disease.