A House Committee will take some time this summer to consider how to battle chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease in cervids, including deer and elk. 21 cases of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, have been found in Missouri, all since 2010 and all in Macon and Linn Counties in north-central Missouri.
Assistant to the Conservation Department Director Aaron Jeffries says the Department has a management plan in place that has been developed in the last decade, and he’s not sure what could be done legislatively to improve upon it.
“The Department’s been working closely with conservation groups, deer hunters and the captive cervids industry to find a balance with our regulations to protect both the captive herd as well as the free-ranging herd.”
The committee will be chaired by Representative Sandy Crawford (R-Buffalo). She says some of the changes planned for permitting would have harmed the captive deer industry. She says the committee will be mostly concerned with that issue.
“Last year, Conservation was going to make some changes and actually if you go to their website now, you can make comments to the permitting change that they’re … looking at making. A year or so ago I believe, the changes that they would have made would have basically put some of our deer breeders, if not all of them, out of business eventually.”
Conservation Department Veterinarian Kelly Straka says with the low number of cases so far in Missouri, for lawmakers to study the issue now is proactive.
“Chronic wasting disease is something that we’re starting to see spread across the country, and unfortunately once it starts to spread it tends to increase in prevalence over time as well as geographic distribution, so not only do you see more of it on the landscape but you see it more on a wider scale, so absolutely I think that the more proactive and more serious we can be now is better than trying to scramble to catch up after we’ve already had a disease spread.”
Crawford also suggests there could be a conflict of interest for the Department as it deals both with managing CWD, and reintroducing elk to Missouri.
“Conservation has introduced the elk into the state … and that’s fine, but on the other hand when it comes to the whitetail deer breeders it seems like they’re being a little hard on them on one hand when [Conservation itself] is bringing elk in on the other.”
Jeffries says the elk reintroduction program is not going to accelerate the incidents of CWD in Missouri.
“Animals are removed from a CWD-free state, as well as a live animal test for CWD was conducted on the animals.”
Crawford doesn’t expect the committee to begin meeting for another month or more.