WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), delivered the following remarks at a hearing titled “Legislative Hearing on a bill to create a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force.”
The hearing featured testimony from the Brian Nesvik, director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department; Kent Leonhardt, commissioner of the West Virginia Department of Agriculture; and Whit Fosburgh, president and chief executive officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.
For more information on witness testimony click here.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today, this committee will examine draft legislation to address a growing wildlife health crisis.
“In October, this committee held a hearing to examine how disease impacts wildlife conservation as well as management.
“From that hearing, it became clear that one of the largest threats to the health of deer, elk, moose, and reindeer is Chronic Wasting Disease.
“Chronic Wasting Disease is a terrible, degenerative brain disease.
“It is highly contagious in animals.
“Symptoms develop slowly over time, but the disease is always fatal.
“Scientists and wildlife managers first detected the disease nearly 40 years ago.
“Since then, it has spread to at least 26 states and 4 Canadian provinces.
“Since its discovery, scientists, state wildlife managers, and federal agencies have worked to understand how the disease spreads.
“From their work, we now understand that the disease is spread by prions.
“A prion is not a bacteria, it is not a virus, there are no treatments available, and antibiotics are not effective.
“There is no effective vaccine.
“I learned about prion diseases in medical school.
“Prions are effectively misfolded proteins.
“When these proteins are abnormal, they cause similar diseases in sheep and humans.
“How those prions spread and infect other animals still remains a mystery.
“Research has not yet determined whether the disease is transmitted through nose-to-nose contact, animal waste, carcasses of infected animals, or some other way.
“Some studies have even suggested prions can remain in soil for up to 16 years.
“There is a lot we don’t know about this disease, including its risk to humans.
“That is why today, we will discuss a draft bill to create a Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“This task force represents an opportunity to bring states, relevant federal agencies, scientists, managers, and farmers to one table.
“Together they can coordinate prevention and control efforts, and target future research to address unanswered questions.
“States manage deer, elk, moose, and reindeer populations that are at risk.
“States, like Wyoming and West Virginia, manage wild herds and collect data from game farms.
“They have invested countless hours and dollars to develop strategies that may not always be consistent across state lines.
“When he testified before this committee in October, Dr. Walter Cook, wildlife population health veterinarian at Texas A&M, emphasized the need to coordinate research, containment efforts, and public education.
“He stated: ‘It would be ideal if a group of respected Chronic Wasting Disease authorities could determine common management needs and overall public message.’
“To that end, the draft bill would combine expertise about wildlife from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, data on farmed animals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and on-the-ground experience from affected states.
“This is a fight that must be fought on multiple fronts – in the wild where deer, elk, and moose roam vast spaces and on farms that breed and raise these animals.
“Unchecked, this disease could truly be catastrophic for wildlife and local economies.
“Across this country, whole industries are built around wildlife – hunting, tourism, wildlife watching, and deer and elk farming.
“The Muley Fanatic Foundation in Wyoming told me, ‘there is no bigger threat to our big game populations than the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.’
“I believe this task force, and the pooled resources it leverages, can be a turning point in the national fight against Chronic Wasting Disease.
“We need a roadmap for the future, and sharing information is the place to start.”