In 1967, one year before I received my Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, scientists just a few miles up the road were grappling with a strange new `wasting' disease that had decimated their deer population. The discovery launched researchers on the foothills campus into the field of prion research, a heretofore-unknown field of science about which, even today, little is known. Three decades later, tragically, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was discovered outside the fences of the CSU campus, in both wild and captive cervid populations.
As scientists worked to unravel the mystery of the folded protein, several states' departments of resources and agriculture scrambled to get a handle on the spread of the disease. For agriculture, CWD posed difficult problems for the captive deer and elk farming industry. For resource managers, the disease threatened grave consequences for the wild cervid population as well as for communities across the United States whose economies depend on deer and elk hunting. In an all-out attack against the disease, tens of thousands of animals were destroyed. In the meantime, state wildlife management budgets were quickly depleted as the demands of testing and eradication siphoned off millions of un-budgeted dollars. A perfect example: in just two years in Colorado, CWD funding jumped from $700,000 to $4 million.
While there was never any doubt that the states retained undisputed primacy over wildlife, the economic and scientific demands forced them to turn to the federal government for assistance. The financial strain of management efforts coupled with the unique scientific demands assure a limited role for the federal government. Through the Department of Agriculture emergency powers, millions of dollars were provided for culling and indemnification. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agriculture Research Service and the U.S. Geological Service, reacted to the need for CWD research and management funding through their yearly budget processes.