Hunters and Conservationists Unite in Response to Chronic Wasting Disease Finding in Captive Deer Herd

Aug 04, 2015, 17:05 ET from Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage

AUSTIN, Texas, Aug. 4, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage has joined with The Texas Wildlife Association, the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, the Boone & Crockett Club, Quality Deer Management Association, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Borderlands Research Institute, Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, Texas State Rifle Association and Texas Wildlife and Fisheries Management Council to support implementation of prudent regulatory protocols in response to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), which was first discovered in a captive deer breeding facility in Medina County in late June, 2015. The groups were all signatories to a recent resolution initiated by the Texas Wildlife Association.

"It is important to all of us that the conservation, hunting and land steward community is galvanized in response to the finding of CWD in Medina County," Jenny Sanders, executive director of Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage, said. "We need to ensure that our actions are guided by science, caution and a sense of utmost concern for our wild deer herds, hunting markets and rural economies."

CWD, an always-fatal, infectious brain disease that affects members of the deer family (Cervids, including white tailed and mule deer, elk, reindeer, red deer and sika) has been a known threat for many years, with documented cases in 21 states and 2 Canadian Provinces, including West Texas mule deer in 2012. Captive deer—purposefully confined in high concentrations, potentially shipped to and through multiple deer breeding facilities and then liberated to co-mingle with wild deer—could greatly amplify the speed, volume and geographic distribution of CWD.

Texas Mountain Ranch, where a diseased buck was first detected in June, has shipped 825 deer to 147 properties in the last five years, potentially exposing 66 Texas counties to this deadly disease.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials are now reporting that preliminary tests on two additional deer from this facility have come back positive for CWD. These samples have been sent to a national diagnostic laboratory in Ames, Iowa for confirmation.

As the investigation develops, and if other CWD-positive animals are discovered—primarily through post-mortem inspections of brain tissue—the impacts of CWD could grow exponentially.

"This issue transcends the captive deer breeding industry alone," David Yeates, CEO of the Texas Wildlife Association, said in a statement on July 16th to the TPWD Commission. "It is imperative that state agencies respond to this issue with decisiveness and transparency, establishing and preserving public faith in the health and safety of captive and native free-range deer herds in Texas."

Approximately 110,000 deer are currently held under permit from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in just over 1,300 captive deer breeding facilities in Texas.  Alternately, there are more than 700,000 deer hunters; 3.9 million free-ranging deer in Texas; and hundreds of thousands of landowners across the state who rely on hunting to generate income. 

Deer hunting in Texas represents $2.1 billion in economic impact, derived from license fees, excise taxes, funds raised by hunting and conservation groups, and hunters' spending. All of this is in addition to the indirect financial impacts that healthy and huntable wildlife populations have on real estate and other rural values.

"It is imperative that the response to this disease finding be focused on uncovering the source of infection and protecting the greater hunting markets and wild deer populations," Sanders said.

CWD is a member of the Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Family (TSE). TSEs such as Scrapie and BSE (Mad Cow Disease) have caused harm to livestock, livestock-related markets and in the case of BSE, human health.

The coalition supports equal or similar animal health practices and standards as have been applied to the livestock industry when dealing with diseases like CWD. Some of these practices include, but are not limited to, testing of CWD-susceptible wildlife, restrictions on movement of live CWD-susceptible wildlife, and the testing of hunter-harvested CWD-susceptible wildlife from high-risk areas. Additionally, the groups recommend that protocols err on the side of safety in protecting our state's wildlife resources, livestock and farming interests, and human health.

"This disease, if it spreads to the wild, could pose a threat to the biological, ecological and financial health of wildlife populations, broad wildlife-related economies in Texas, as well as to the working lands that supply a multitude of societal benefits to all Texas citizens," Yeates said.

In his testimony to the TPWD Commission on July 16, Dr. Roel Lopez, current President of the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, set the tone for how decisions should be made in regard to the management of this disease.

"The actions and measures implemented in the next few months will serve to shape the future of our native deer populations for generations to come," Lopez said. "We are at a critical crossroad, and how we move forward should not be short sighted."

About Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage
Launched in 2014, Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage is a coalition of sportsmen and women who value the rich tradition of hunting in Texas. The coalition seeks to promote the values and tradition of sustainable, fair chase hunting to all Texans, while exposing practices that threaten the future of the sport. Texans for Saving our Hunting Heritage is led by Executive Director Jenny Sanders, with members Ernest Angelo, Jr., Joseph B. C. Fitzsimons, Stephen J. "Tio" Kleberg, and Dr. Wallace Klussman. Hunt Real. Hunt Wild. Hunt Texas Proud.

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SOURCE Texans for Saving Our Hunting Heritage