WASHINGTON, D.C. – Experts in chronic wasting disease told members of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday that states are digging deep into their own pockets because the federal government is not spending enough to monitor and research the illness.
They told members of a Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee that lawmakers don’t need to create new organizations to fight the deer and elk disease – instead, they should get out their checkbooks.
“Federal and state agencies involved in this endeavor concur that, collectively, all the authorities that are necessary to manage this disease currently exist in law,” said Gary Taylor, who is the legislative director for the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
“What is most needed are adequate congressional appropriations to the federal agencies involved both for their efforts and to pass through to the state, fish and wildlife agencies, state universities and state agriculture departments, to manage CWD,” he said.
Missoula resident and Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance project leader Gary Wolfe told lawmakers that states are siphoning money from other priorities to combat chronic wasting disease, a transmissible neurological disease that produces small lesions in the brains of infected animals.
“The CWD Alliance is particularly concerned that this redirection of limited wildlife agency funds is not adequate to address the CWD issue, and will have negative impacts on other important wildlife management and conservation programs,” Wolfe said.
Cases of chronic wasting disease were first identified in Wyoming in the late 1960s, and the disease was identified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) in 1978.
It is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as mad cow disease, and the sheep disease scrapie.
Although chronic wasting disease is contagious among deer and elk, there has been no evidence of transmission from deer and elk to humans, cattle or other domestic livestock.
E. Tom Thorne, who is a veterinarian and wildlife disease consultant for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said CWD efforts are drawing department personnel away from other priorities.
“It’s a big area of concern,” Thorne said. “Probably a multitude of programs are suffering. CWD monitoring is very manpower-intensive. They had to call on game wardens and hatchery personnel and basically everyone to pitch in. If there was a warden collecting CWD samples, he wasn’t out there patrolling.”
Senators were told that $52 million has been spent for monitoring and research of chronic wasting disease since 2003. The federal government provided $16.4 million in fiscal year 2003 and $18.5 million in fiscal year 2004. During those two years, states provided $18 million.
The Bush administration has asked for $23.1 million for fiscal year 2005.
Senators were concerned that the administration’s budget proposal would provide only $4.2 million for research.
“It just seems to me that $4.2 million is kind of meager considering the implications on wildlife,” Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said.
Chronic wasting disease has been found in wild elk and deer in Wyoming, but only on game farms in Montana.
While it is still unclear if chronic wasting disease can be transmitted to humans, a jump in chronic wasting disease cases represents a greater threat to the economies of Montana and Wyoming than to the public’s health.