Good morning, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. I am Russell George, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the management of chronic wasting disease, commonly referred to as CWD, and in particular the role of the federal government in helping to address this disease. I appreciate the past support and leadership of Congress on the subject of CWD, an issue of considerable importance to the State of Colorado and to many other states across the country as well.
CWD in Colorado
Prior to 2002, we in Colorado believed with some confidence that CWD was confined to populations of wild deer and elk in the northeastern portion of our state. That assumption was based in part on more than two decades of work on CWD conducted in cooperation with our colleagues in Wyoming, at Colorado State University (CSU) and elsewhere. Unfortunately, two years ago we detected CWD in deer and elk herds on Colorado's western slope, requiring us to significantly expand our CWD surveillance and customer service efforts – at considerable expense.
Colorado Assistance to Other States
Since then CWD has regrettably been detected in several other states as well. In response, Colorado willingly shared its experiences with wildlife officials from those states in order to help them understand and combat this wildlife disease. For example, we have shared with those states information not only on the disease itself, but also regarding rapid testing procedures and our protocols for surveillance and management. As a result, the knowledge that we have gained and the programs we have initiated in Colorado are often used as a model by others. I am pleased that the pioneering CWD work done in Colorado and Wyoming have allowed other states to save scarce funds and limited personnel time by enabling them to focus on initiatives, technologies and approaches that we already have demonstrated to be effective.
State Needs for Federal Assistance
Allow me to assure you that no state understands better than Colorado the tremendous resources wildlife agencies will have to commit to CWD programs now and in the future. As I’ve noted, Colorado has invested heavily in tackling the challenge of CWD and we have done so largely with state funds, especially revenues derived from the sale of hunting licenses.
But I think it is now clear that Congress and federal agencies have an important role in providing additional support to help states fight this disease. I continue to recommend that the federal role should focus heavily on contributing additional funding to state efforts, delivered through already-existing mechanisms and agencies (e.g., USDA and Interior). I do not believe any new programs or institutions are required.
Importance of State Primacy
Earlier congressional initiatives on CWD, including legislation, direction to federal agencies, and critically needed funding, have been helpful to many states. I am also pleased to report that those efforts have recognized the primacy of the States in policy-making authority with regard to wildlife management, both in general terms and specifically with respect to CWD. I thank you for that. The recognition of primacy remains critically important to the states.
Highlights of Colorado Efforts
I would like to take a moment to highlight some of the actions taken by Colorado over the past three years in response to CWD. We have:
· Coordinated with county and local governments and private landowners to reduce deer populations in areas of especially high prevalence.
· Redirected significant funding and personnel to CWD control efforts. Since 2002, we have created and filled eight new positions focused on CWD control efforts, and reallocated $3 million in annual funding to those efforts. Those staffing and funding shifts have occurred within the limits of a largely flat budget picture and very tight personnel limits.
· Increased coordination and cooperation between the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDOA), Colorado’s Department of Public Health and the Environment, CSU and the Division of Wildlife on CWD issues.
· Initiated and completed important research on transmission mechanisms, rapid diagnostic approaches, live-animal testing, and outbreak dynamics that will be key in refining management and surveillance approaches for CWD.
· Joined with CSU and CDOW to implement an extensive CWD surveillance and testing program for wild elk and deer. We were able to offer statewide testing of hunter-killed deer and elk while helping to CSU to validate a new rapid test that provided results in hours instead of months and allowed for large-volume testing. As a direct result of that experience, we understand that the new test is now being considered by the USDA and Canada for screening large numbers of cattle for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE).
· Developed and implemented an electronic data capture system into our sample submission and collection system, thereby greatly improving both scientific data gathering and customer service aspects of our ongoing CWD surveillance program.
· Involved volunteers from the Colorado Veterinary Medical Associations, federal agencies, conservation organizations and the general public in an extensive surveillance and testing program for CWD.
With this cooperative and integrated effort, we have succeeded in testing more than 45,000 wild deer and elk for CWD over the last two hunting seasons with most results made available to the hunter within two weeks of receipt of the sample. The CDOA and the Division of Wildlife continue to coordinate, develop, and adopt comprehensive regulations that govern the importation, intrastate transportation and surveillance of captive deer and elk. As you can see, we already have in place programs to study, monitor, and manage CWD, in both captive and wild populations.
Specific Colorado Needs
Despite the unprecedented actions taken by Colorado and other states, it is clear much more work remains to be done. The needs of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDOA) and CSU are extensive and beyond the ability of our state to fully fund alone. We believe federal funding for this work is a wise investment, not only for the wildlife resource, but for the thousands of jobs dependent on wildlife recreation. In Colorado alone, we estimate that three quarters of a billion dollars in economic activity is generated from hunting annually. That activity is especially important to rural towns and businesses.
Colorado has identified several initiatives and programs that are in need of additional support if we are to be able to respond effectively to CWD in the future. And as I described earlier, the work we do in Colorado is often used by other states as well. Those needs include:
Upgrading Certified Labs
$3.5 million to initiate the planning and construction of a new veterinary diagnostic lab on the CSU campus in Fort Collins with the potential to share laboratory space and equipment and co-house staff from the CDOW, the CDOA and the University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. This new laboratory would help to address a number of regional animal health needs, including but not limited to CWD and other prion disease diagnostics. The CSU Board of Governors supports the new lab.
$4 million to upgrade disposal processes at four CWD sampling/testing facilities -- in Grand Junction, Craig, Fort Collins and Rocky Ford. I would like to emphasize that these upgrades will be necessary if “recommendations” under consideration by Region 8 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are imposed. The rules would govern our CWD labs’ waste streams and our methods of carcass disposal. We urge the EPA to continue proceeding slowly and cautiously, and only after consulting with external third party prion disease experts, other federal agencies and all potentially affected states (including their wildlife, public health and agriculture agencies).
$2 million for research on therapeutics, live animal diagnostics, environmental detection, field diagnostics, genetic resistance and enhanced rapid laboratory tests.
$5 million to relocate and upgrade our live animal research facility. The existing facility, which has been a key resource in understanding many important aspects of CWD, is located on property that is under a lease that will expire soon and is not likely to be renewed by the property owner. This project will provide several Colorado institutions the capability to continue a strong tradition of collaborative animal research, and is a much more cost-effective approach than creating a duplicate research effort elsewhere.
Surveillance, Monitoring and Management of Wild Deer and Elk
Colorado needs assistance with our annual expenses directly related to CWD operations (expanded surveillance, testing, reporting, culling, carcass disposal, etc.). Expenditures are estimated to be approximately $3 million annually for the foreseeable future.
Surveillance, Monitoring and Management of Captive Deer and Elk Herds
We estimate Colorado would require $150,000 for detecting, measuring and monitoring incidence of CWD in captive Colorado herds. We also anticipate needing as much as $1 million for reducing the incidence of CWD in captive herds (depopulation, indemnification, and carcass disposal) should additional infected herds be found.
Education and Outreach
Finally, states like Colorado need support in the development of brochures, fact sheets, videos, training clinics, website enhancement, etc. for agency staff, hunters, veterinarians, meat processors, taxidermists, conservation groups and the general public.
As I conclude, I feel it is important to note that the $3 million in funding redirected by the Colorado Division of Wildlife represent funds from our dwindling reserve balance. We are drawing on those reserve funds, in addition to diligently reprioritizing existing resources. Continuing to expend at this level will soon begin to compromise other important wildlife programs – such as species recovery, education and habitat protection.
Colorado greatly appreciates the $240,000 in assistance received from USDA-APHIS-Veterinary Services this past year, as well as the promise of $70,000 in additional support for ongoing CWD research from USDI, but clearly the bulk of our work is still being funded from within our state, and as I’ve noted, those resources are quickly disappearing.
In summary, I would like to emphasize that there are many opportunities for the federal government to assist States in CWD management and research. I urge congressional support for legislation and funding that will allow state wildlife agencies to effectively fight CWD. I also urge you to provide that assistance through the most streamlined and efficient mechanisms available, in particular already-established grant programs in both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you and the Subcommittee. Colorado's deer and elk are among our state's most treasured natural resources. Your efforts to help us protect this valued resource are greatly appreciated.
I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.
Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources
1313 Sherman Street, Room 718
Denver, Colorado 80203