On 19 June, two House Resources Subcommittees held a joint oversight hearing on chronic wasting disease (CWD). The lawmakers heard testimony from US Geological Survey Director Charles Groat, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Bobby Acord, Colorado Division of Wildlife Director Russell George, and IAFWA Legislative Director Gary Taylor (accompanied by John Fisher, Director of Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study). The testimony for each witness is available at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/108cong/forest/2003jun19/agendajoint.htm .

In summary, the witnesses described how state and federal agencies have partnered to control the spread of CWD since the Forests and Forest Health and Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittees held their first joint CWD hearing in May 2002. They enumerated tasks that include, but are not limited to, surveillance and monitoring of free-ranging and wild cervids; basic and applied research (e.g., inter- and intraspecies transmission, live animal testing, prion detection in the environment and feed material); development of a voluntary national certification program (APHIS plans to release the rulemaking soon so that it can implement the program this fall/winter); distribution of federal funds to help state wildlife agencies and operators of cervid farms conduct necessary CWD tasks; and testing sample tissues for CWD. With such excellent coordination already in place, all witnesses commented that it was unnecessary for Congress to pass Rep. McInnis’ (R-CO) CWD bill (HR 2057). Instead, the witness panel expressed a great need for financial assistance, especially at the state level where state wildlife agencies have been using their own money to combat CWD, often at the expense of other critical wildlife programs. In the case of Colorado, the Division of Wildlife has invested its own hunting revenues to develop 8 new positions devoted to CWD efforts.

Not long after the hearing, Reps. Mark Green (R-WI) and McInnis introduced the Chronic Wasting Disease Financial Assistance Act (HR 2636). This bill establishes three grants in the Department of the Interior to help state and tribal wildlife agencies improve their CWD management efforts, but only for those agencies that have incorporated CWD management into their comprehensive wildlife conservation plan. The first grant would help state agencies develop and implement a multi-year strategy for combating CWD and is authorized at $7.5 million. DOI would use the following guidelines to prioritize distribution of funds: 1) States that have detected CWD in its wild cervid population(s) or that adjoin such a State; 2) States that have spent State dollars to manage, monitor, survey or research CWD, with additional priority afforded to those States that display a financial commitment to CWD management/research activities; 3) States in which wildlife and agricultural agencies and tribal governments have collaborated throughout the implementation process to develop a comprehensive and integrated CWD policy and program; additional priority would be extended to those States that are integrating “the programs and policies of all involved agencies related to chronic wasting disease management;” and 4) States that want to develop a rapid response mechanism for new CWD outbreaks.

The second grant also is directed at state wildlife agencies but focuses specifically on containing disease outbreaks among free ranging cervids. It is authorized at $10 million. The funding priorities for this grant are: 1) the amount of money States have disbursed for CWD management, monitoring surveillance and research when addressing an “on-going outbreak;” 2) the number of CWD cases recorded for the State; and 3) the type of wild cervid population infected with the disease.

The final grant would help Indian tribes develop and implement a multi-year strategy for combating CWD and is authorized at $3 million. It has the same first three funding priorities listed for the State’s capacity building grant.

Overall, HR 2636 establishes a funding mechanism that States could tap into annually to receive financial assistance but does not specify what percentage of funds is available for each spending priority. The bill will most likely supplant McInnis’ first bill (HR 2057), according to Melissa Simpson in McInnis’ office. Melissa does not know when the House Resources Committee would mark up the bill, though. Presently, House appropriators have been responding to individual State requests for CWD assistance, and if HR 2636 is adopted, its authorizing figures would have to be incorporated into the Department of the Interior’s overall allocation for FY 2004.

Prior to the 19 June hearing, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced two complimentary bills that would offer State assistance on CWD matters. HR 2430 would amend the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act to enhance activities related to scientific research and monitoring and public education, under the direction of the US Geological Survey, whereas HR 2431 would establish the National CWD Task Force to ensure coordination among all State, Federal and tribal activities. Authorized activities under HR 2430 are limited to those States that have free-ranging elk and deer “affected by Chronic Wasting Disease” and include: 1) investigative research of epidemiology, transmission, environmental persistence, vaccinations and other relevant CWD topics; 2) creation of an Internet-based data management system; 3) development, testing and ratification of rapid diagnostic techniques; 4) participation in surveillance programs; 5) development and implementation of sampling techniques for cervid populations; and 6) development and implementation of a national education strategy that helps hunters and other citizens understand CWD’s distribution, biology/ecology and epidemiology plus how wildlife biologists are trying to control the disease at the State level.

HR 2430 authorizes an annual appropriation of $15 million for research and monitoring, $5 million for public education and $1 million for administration beginning in fiscal 2004 and ending in fiscal 2009.

HR 2431 would establish a National CWD Task Force that must address the environmental and economic problems associated with CWD occurrences in free-ranging and captive cervids. Members of the Task Force would include the following: 1) Secretaries (or designees) of the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior; 2) up to 15 representatives of State agencies, commissions and boards, regional agencies, tribes, colleges and universities, and non-governmental organizations, each one have substantial knowledge in either wildlife biology/ecology, veterinary sciences/animal husbandry, diagnostic techniques, communication, or wildlife dependent recreation; all representatives must by jointly appointed by the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior, must represent the disease’s geographic distribution; and 3) Chairman and ranking member for the House Resources, House Agriculture, Senate Environment and Public Works, and Senate Agriculture Committees.

Each year, the task force would have to provide Congress with an annual report that explains its activities and accomplishments, work plan for the following year, new CWD developments and budgetary needs (e.g., travel expenses, personnel).

Witnesses’ testimony and the complete text for various CWD bills may be accessed at the CWD Alliance’s “Policy and Legislative” page (http://www.cwd-info.org/index.php/fuseaction/policy.main).