U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works
Hearing Statements
Date:   04/07/2004
 
Statement of P. Scott Hassett
Secretary
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection

Chronic Wasting Disease Financial Assistance Act of 2003

Thank you for the opportunity to present the following comments on Wisconsin’s experience with Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). We wish to express our appreciation for the $18.6 million Congress allocated in FY 2004 funding to control CWD nationwide, especially the $1.75 dedicated to CWD control work in Wisconsin. We value our federal partnership, and especially the vigilance of our Wisconsin congressional delegation in getting the federal government to help Wisconsin in our CWD management efforts.

Since the discovery of CWD in Wisconsin in February 2002, state government has done everything in its power to find out where this disease is located within our state and take actions to minimize the long term damage it might cause. Wisconsin has formed an Interagency CWD Response Team, consisting of representatives from the Wisconsin Departments of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), Natural Resources (DNR) and Health and Family Services (DHFS). All three agencies have already directed substantial resources to identify the scope and magnitude of the problem and begin treatment - - over $1 million for DATCP and over $16 million for DNR through December 31, 2003.

Farmed Deer and Elk

In Wisconsin, DATCP manages CWD control efforts for Wisconsin's farm-raised deer population. As of October 20, 2003, DATCP has 827 registered cervid farms containing about 35,000 cervids.

DATCP's CWD monitoring program requires individual animal identification, detailed record-keeping for all animals that join or leave the herd, testing, and reporting escapes. Herds must be enrolled if live animals move off the farm for any purpose other than slaughter. There are 550 herds enrolled in the monitoring program, amounting to 67 percent of registered farms. Many of the remaining farms are hunting preserves, which cannot enroll because of difficulties in keeping animal censuses, or hobby farms that do not move live animals. Wisconsin's farm-raised deer program also includes:

Animal Movement/Import: Deer and elk moving within Wisconsin must be enrolled in the monitoring program and meet tuberculosis testing requirements. Deer and elk entering Wisconsin must come from herds under CWD surveillance/monitoring for 5 years, and must meet brucellosis and tuberculosis testing requirements.

Testing: All deer and elk 16 months or older that die, go to slaughter, or are killed must be tested for CWD, regardless of whether they are in monitored herds. Since 1999 6,736 farm raised cervids have been tested. The vast majority of those have been since February 2002.

CWD Positive Animals: To date, DATCP has found 15 CWD-positive whitetails on farms and one CWD-positive elk. These have been in four herds:

-- Buckhorn Flats, a Portage County hunting preserve, has had seven positive whitetails. DATCP has ordered the herd killed for testing, pending a decision by an administrative law judge.

-- A Walworth County breeding herd received whitetails from one of the same sources as Buckhorn Flats. Early testing showed two positives; when DATCP killed the herd, they found four more.

-- A Manitowoc County farm received elk from a Minnesota farm later found to be infected. A routine test turned up one positive. DATCP killed the herd for testing and found no more.

-- A Sauk County hobby farm had only four whitetails, one of which tested positive in a routine test.

Quarantines: DATCP has 16 quarantines in place: seven related to the Portage County positives; two where herds received elk from infected Minnesota herds; one related to the Sauk County farm; and six because they are within the DNR's disease eradication zone.

We support USDA's effort to establish a nation-wide CWD herd certification program. The plan has set a goal of eradicating CWD within the farmed cervid herds in the U.S. This is an important goal and will put Wisconsin producers on equal footing with other producers around the country and keep our U.S. producers competitive internationally. We hope the committee will do what it can to assist this important effort.

Wild Deer and Elk

Wisconsin wildlife biologists began testing wild deer for CWD in 1999 and news of CWD in western wild and farmed deer and elk herds became more common. In February 2002 Wisconsin discovered its first confirmed cases on CWD when three deer harvested in southern Wisconsin tested positive for CWD.

To date, 317 CWD positive wild white-tailed deer have been found in Wisconsin, including 109 positives from the 2003-2004 hunting/sampling seasons. Two apparently separate foci of CWD have been identified – the approximately 800 sq. mile affected area in southwestern Wisconsin and an area spanning 3 counties in the southeastern Wisconsin that border the Illinois’ CWD affected counties.

Over the past two years, our objectives have included:

· doing a comprehensive surveillance effort to determine where CWD was found in our wild herds;

· undertaking and assisting research to better understand the ecology of this disease;

· find better diagnostics;

· educate Wisconsin citizens about CWD; and

· prevent the spread of the disease from infected areas by reducing the size of the infected deer herds.

Surveillance

Over the past two years, we have tested over 56,000 wild deer in Wisconsin. In our statewide surveillance efforts we sampled with sufficient intensity in most of our counties to give us a 90% probability of detecting CWD if the disease was present at 1% level of prevalence. We have sampled more intensively in and near our known infection areas to give us information on whether prevalence is changing and better define the geographic boundaries of the infection.

As part of our surveillance efforts, we worked very hard to develop informational support systems that provides hunters with specific information on the testing results for the deer they bring in. A tracking program was developed that identifies each deer and the sample from that deer with a unique bar coded number. The testing results are then shared with the hunter, as soon as those results are available from the laboratory. Both the surveillance program and the system to track results from individual deer have been extremely valuable in determining where CWD is located in the wild herd, and in providing information many Wisconsin’s deer hunters want. This information has been critical in the development of a plan for addressing CWD in Wisconsin, and in helping to assure the continuation of deer hunting as an important tradition and wildlife management tool.

Research

Wisconsin continues to invest into CWD research programs, focused on studies that will aid in management of CWD. Partnerships have been established with University of Wisconsin, the USGS-National Wildlife Health Center, USDA-ARS, and others, with a strong emphasis on sharing Wisconsin CWD data and archived deer tissues. Recent findings of significance to our management program include (1) evidence that prevalence of CWD is significantly related to density of deer, and (2) that there is significant spatial variation in deer harvest rates in the Disease Eradication Zone. We will be undertaking Human Dimension research this summer to better understand landowner attitudes regarding CWD in the infected areas. Wisconsin research played a key role in the USDA approval of an additional CWD diagnostic test in 2003.

Disease management

The best available research suggests that without management CWD will spread steadily outward from infected areas and eventually impact most of Wisconsin. In infected deer populations, the disease is projected to significantly reduce the deer population as the prevalence of the disease steadily increases. White-tailed deer are highly regarded in Wisconsin and deeply ingrained in our way of life. An estimated $1 billion dollars of economic activity is generated from deer associated recreation. CWD represents a long-term threat to deer-related activities.

In addition to CWD impacts on the abundance and health of wild deer and elk herds, there are serious human health considerations to be considered. We are grateful that no direct human health problems have yet been attributed to CWD. We no links are ever found. However, we are confronted with the reality that World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control recommend that CWD-positive deer not be consumed. As CWD prevalence increases and the size of the infected areas grow, an increasing number of deer taken by hunters will be unsuitable for consumption. There are very serious implications for wild herd population control, as well as testing services.

CWD is a difficult disease to control. It is especially challenging when it is found in wild herds. Our effort has required a tremendous commitment of staff resources, expertise and funding. We've reallocated significant resources from other wildlife management activities and projects in Wisconsin over the past couple years. These reallocated resources have been combined with funding received through the state budget process, and the additional funding that has been made available in the federal budget to offset some of the costs associated with this intensive effort to manage CWD.

Wisconsin Needs

The work we do in Wisconsin is part of a national effort to control this disease. As you can see, we have been busy in Wisconsin and still have much to do. In spite of no official recognition of the National CWD plan, much has been accomplished. We request your help in moving the federal government to fully embrace the National CWD Plan and more importantly provide the appropriations needed to implement the plan and effectively manage the disease.

It is crucial for the federal government to provide coordination and assistance on a national level with research, surveillance, disease management, diagnostic testing, technology, communications, education, and funding for state CWD programs. Federal agencies should provide tools and financial assistance to states and help develop consistent, unified approaches to CWD management.

Since May 2002, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Interior (DOI), along with state and tribal wildlife management and agriculture agencies, have been working together on a National CWD Plan. A CWD Task Force was formed to ensure that federal and state agencies cooperate in the development and implementation of an effective national CWD program.

Today - nearly two years later - we are still waiting for the release of the proposal. We seek your assistance in encouraging the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to release the National CWD Plan. A comprehensive, multi-agency, long-term plan to fight CWD is needed with support from the highest levels of the Federal government. Issues needing our collective attention include:

· development of a national database to track and store information about CWD;

· expansion of federal ability to test for CWD;

· distribution of federal dollars to help states data entry, testing and control actions; and

· acceleration of state and other grants for the study of the disease

· incentives for private landowners to control the disease in wild herds using their land

Over the next few years, we estimate that it will cost about $7 million annually on an on-going basis in order for the DNR to carry out the wild herd work needed to meet the goals of the CWD management plan. These costs include staff resources that are being reallocated from other areas, and there are some additional state and federal funds that have been made available. However, there are significant gaps in the level of resources available for specific work in comparison to what is needed on an on-going basis. This includes, for example, funding to carry out the surveillance work, costs associated with herd reduction efforts in those areas where CWD has been detected, and other costs associated with disposal of unwanted carcasses and various research efforts.

Both nationally and in Wisconsin, much still needs to be done. We support S.1036 because it provides a comprehensive blueprint to address many of these issues, as it authorizes funds for CWD management in both wild and farm-raised deer. In addition, we support the following:

· Add that private labs must report to state any positives.

· Sec 202 should read "farm-raised" deer and elk

· Narrow the " captive wildlife" reference to " captive cervid" under Title II. Sec. 202 (2). All references to captive should probably read "farm-raised" - or perhaps "farmed and captive" to cover farms, zoos, roadside exhibitors, cervids captured for research or translocation, etc.

· For farm raised herd management, Wisconsin has sought funds to make exposed - not just infected - captive deer herds eligible for indemnity; subsidize sampling costs for CWD tests; and for a one-time buyout for herds in eradication zones.

With the discovery of CWD in the wild and captive herds of Wisconsin and other states, the farm raised cervid industry has lost substantial value. In addition, new regulatory programs are proving to costly to many herd owners. Unfortunately, the nature of the programs and the disease make it very difficult and costly to go out-of-business and there is little incentive to do it legally. In order to prevent deer, with unknown health status, from being released into the wild or moved without record in commerce, the federal government should provide money for herd destruction and disposal costs to herd owners wanting to cease operating.

Additional federal funds could also be used to help cervid farmers like Wes Ramage of Oakfield, Wisconsin. Officials in Pennsylvania and Colorado denied Mr. Wes Ramage's request to ship elk to those states - despite certification from Wisconsin officials that he had complied with Wisconsin's CWD program for farm-raised cervidae - because those states have stricter fencing requirements. Additional funds would help Mr. Ramage pay for extra fencing on his property so that other states would accept his elk.

Thank you again for your time and efforts on behalf of Wisconsin. We appreciate your consideration of this request to join with us as partners to ensure the health of our deer herd and the Wisconsin family hunting tradition that depends on it. We look forward to continuing this partnership as we work together to develop the strongest possible federal CWD program for Wisconsin and the nation.