Written Testimony for the Senate Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water April 6, 2004
Hearing on S. 1366, Chronic Wasting Disease Financial Assistance Act of 2003
By Richard F. Bechtel, Senior Legislative Representative for Wildlife Policy
National Wildlife Federation
Thank you for the opportunity for the National Wildlife Federation, the Nation’s largest conservation advocacy and education organization, to submit testimony in support of S 1366, the Chronic Wasting Disease Financial Assistance Act of 2003. NWF can not emphasize enough the bill’s central purpose of providing increased funding for state fish and wildlife agencies to manage and control the disease.
Chronic Wasting Disease is a significant threat to our free-ranging deer and elk populations, it heaps expenses upon affected state fish and wildlife departments and is forcing the departments to divert funding from important programs to surveillance, management, and research of the disease. Where Chronic Wasting Disease occurs, it can lower numbers of hunters, depress critical license revenues, and reduce the economic activity so vital to rural communities that rely upon economic contributions of hunters. Control and eradication of the disease is extremely important as over 13 million people hunt each year and spend over $20 billion dollars pursuing the activity.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been a priority for NWF since the early 1990s and became a major priority when the disease moved across the Mississippi River into the wild and captive herds of Wisconsin. Although the exact means of transmission is still unknown, evidence indicates a major route of transmission is from captive to wild herds. The recent spread of the disease to South Korea clearly illustrates the danger posed by moving captive cervids within the country and overseas. While control of captive herds may be difficult, management of the disease is even more difficult and expensive when it moves to wild herds.
National Wildlife Federation Policy on CWD The National Wildlife Federation advocates disease management of free-ranging wildlife populations by wildlife professionals working under the authorities of state and federal wildlife agencies. NWF appreciates S 1366’s strong recognition of the primary authority of states and tribes in management of fish and wildlife resources. NWF supports federal funding for research and management of wildlife through the Department of the Interior and for research and management of domestic livestock through the Department of Agriculture. However, NWF is especially heartened by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s realization that CWD must be addressed in both captive and wild populations of cervids and its decision to pass through funding for management and surveillance of CWD in wildlife to state fish and wildlife agencies. Of all federal CWD funding, this pass through has been of the most help to states in their struggle to manage and eradicate the disease. While federal and state agencies believe they do not need additional authority to address Chronic Wasting Disease, S 1366 might be amended to codify the memoranda of agreement process that APHIS has implemented to pass these funds through to state fish and wildlife agencies. However, the funding pass thorough mechanism proposed by APHIS cannot be used to leverage or dictate management to state or federal wildlife agencies. It must be provided to the appropriate agencies with no management strings attached that would lead to livestock style test and slaughter management of our nation’s incredible wildlife resource.
NWF opposes cervid and big game ranches because of the increased risk of disease transmission. NWF advocates physical barriers such as double-fencing be erected and be maintained at trophy big game ranches to absolutely preclude physical contact between wild and contained animals as one mode of transmission is lateral from animal to animal. Mechanisms to clearly identify and track captive deer and elk such as high visibility ear tags with registered numbers are also necessary. NWF also advocates strict limits on interstate transport of cervids and other big game ranched animals until effective tests are developed to certify the health of transported animals and mandatory testing of those animals prior to transportation. Preventing the spread on CWD is a small political and financial investment in our nation’s wildlife. There is no known treatment or vaccine against CWD and this issue is a classic case of “an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.” Curing or eradicating CWD is impossible; preventing its spread is a much more achievable goal.
The proposed rule, “Chronic Wasting Disease Herd Certification Program and Interstate Movement of Captive Deer and Elk,” which APHIS recently circulated for comment is a good first step in preventing CWD in captive herds and preventing transmission of the disease from captive to wild herds. However, the proposed rule contains several provisions, which breach the protection the regulation is designed to provide, especially its voluntary nature, its grandfather provisions, and its allowance of interstate transport of captive cervids before herds achieve five year certification.
In conclusion, the National Wildlife Federation supports the increased funding that enactment of S 1366 would authorize for state fish and wildlife agencies. NWF also endorses CWD appropriations at the levels recommended by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to implement the National Plan for Assisting States, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wildlife and Captive Cervids. NWF especially wants to thank the sponsors of S 1366 and the members of the subcommittee for providing critically needed oversight of the coordination and funding needs of federal Chronic Wasting Disease programs. NWF also promises to work with the sponsors and members of the subcommittee to seek appropriations at these levels for state and tribal fish and wildlife agencies.