U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/06/2004
 
Statement of Senator Russ Feingold
Chronic Wasting Disease Financial Assistance Act of 2003.

I am pleased to be able to present my views on chronic wasting disease and the challenges faced by states and tribal governments in dealing with this disease.

I would like to thank the chair of the Fisheries, Wildlife and Water subcommittee, Senator Michael Crapo, for holding this hearing on a topic of great importance to Wisconsin and allowing me to participate. I would also like to thank the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Senator Jim Jeffords, for his assistance with this legislative hearing.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a serious problem affecting both wild and captive deer and elk in my home state of Wisconsin. It was first detected in my state in 2002 and has now been detected in the neighboring states of Minnesota and Illinois. Wisconsin's experience in getting federal assistance to address this problem, though eventually forthcoming, has been extremely slow and frustrating. The federal government must make chronic wasting disease a higher priority, and Congress must provide the relevant federal agencies with the additional funds and authority so that they can do so.

The state of Wisconsin completed an historic effort to test the deer in our state in 2002 and followed up in 2003. My state began intensive testing of deer after CWD was discovered on February 28, 2002. Results from more than 56,000 white tail deer tested in our state have turned up 320 CWD-positive animals. Almost all of the infected deer detected came from an eradication zone covering parts of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties. Other counties have detected CWD within their borders including Columbia, Kenosha, Richland, Rock, and Walworth. CWD has also been found in several captive herds in my state as well.

Over 1,200 people in my state have been involved, conducting thousands of hours of work at millions of dollars of expense. Management and control of CWD has cost the state approximately $4 to $5 million each year in staff resources and support funds. To cover these costs, the state has been redirecting staff and funds from other programs and activities, and concerns are growing that basic wildlife programs might be impacted in the future. The state has requested assistance in securing federal support to ensure that CWD management does not drain excessive amounts of resources from other wildlife responsibilities.

Therefore, I am pleased to be able to present my views on S. 1366, the Chronic Wasting Disease Support for States Act of 2003, which would bring critical federal support to the effort to eradicate CWD. I have worked closely with the Senator from Colorado, Senator Wayne Allard, on this legislation in this and previous Congresses. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House (H.R. 2636) by Representatives Mark Green, Scott McInnis, and Paul Ryan. I am pleased to be working with this strong coalition to assist states and tribes in their efforts to manage, control, and eradicate CWD.

The need for these funds is overwhelming, and the process for obtaining them needs to be more certain and more transparent. This bill authorizes direct grants to states and tribal governments battling CWD to be awarded by a manner prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior. Specifically, in the bill, the Interior Department is directed to give up to $10 million in grants to states and $3 million in grants to tribes to help them plan and implement management strategies to address chronic wasting disease in both wild herds of deer and elk. The Interior Department is directed to provide grants totaling $7.5 million to assist States in developing and implementing long term management strategies.

This bill is needed because state wildlife and agriculture departments do not have the fiscal or scientific capacity to adequately confront the problem. Their resources are spread too thin as they attempt to prevent the disease from spreading. Federal help in the form of management funding, research grants, and scientific expertise is urgently needed. Federal and state cooperation will protect animal welfare, safeguard our valued hunting and livestock industries, help guarantee America's food safety, and protect the public health.

This legislation is comprehensive, addressing both captive and wild animals and short term and long term needs. It authorizes a federal chronic wasting disease program that will be administered by the United States Departments of Interior. I think it is extremely appropriate that legislators from Colorado, the state that has the longest history in chronic wasting disease, have made a concerted effort to work with Wisconsin members who are struggling with a new outbreak. I deeply appreciate the commitment of Senator Allard and others from the Wisconsin and Colorado delegations toward finding a solution that works for both our states.

In the past, the Forests Subcommittee of the House Committee on Resources has delayed action on this bill based upon promises that the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be acting quickly to put together a comprehensive CWD management plan. That plan was to be delivered in two parts - a Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and Captive Cervids, released in June 2002, and an Implementation document describing specifically what actions would be taken, the agencies responsible for individual projects, project time frames, and the projected costs of completing each project.

It has now been almost two years since the Forest Subcommittee's hearing, and the Implementation document has not been released. We now know generally the actions that the agencies would propose to take to assist states with the problem, but we need a better understanding of the financial resources needed to implement those actions. In correspondence dated January 22, 2003, the Department of Interior stated that the Implementation document was transmitted to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review on December 18, 2002. I was successful in getting a provision included in the 2003 omnibus appropriations bill calling for the Implementation document to be released no later than May 20, 2003. That deadline has long since passed, and I have called for oversight hearings in the Senate.

Recently, on March 9, 2004, I led the Wisconsin and Colorado delegations in sending a letter to OMB's Associate Director for Natural Resources requesting the immediate publication of the Implementation document. We continue to await a response. I am submitting a copy of this letter to the Committee with my testimony.

Mr. Chairman, it is clear to me that Congress should wait no longer. Legislation is sorely needed to provide the federal resources to address a wildlife problem that does not respect state borders. I look forward to working with this Committee to seek passage of this measure. This is a good bill, and it deserves the Committee's support.