New legislation calls for study of chronic wasting disease

Senators John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Doug Jones, D-Ala., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced legislation aimed at increasing the ability of wildlife managers to keep cervid populations healthy.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Transmission in Cervidae Study Act (S. 3644) authorizes a study to determine how chronic wasting disease spreads and how that spread could be prevented.

A fatal degenerative neurological disease first found in the wild in Colorado elk in 1981, CWD has now spread to 25 states and two Canadian provinces.  The Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies has developed best management practices for North American cervid populations and is currently working on more detailed recommendations.

The draft bill calls for the National Academies of Sciences to review current data and best management practices from the CWD Herd Certification Program and state agencies regarding pathways and mechanisms for CWD transmission, areas at risk and geographical patterns of CWD transmission and gaps in current scientific knowledge regarding transmission to prioritize research to address gaps.

The goal is to provide wildlife professionals with better information on CWD and its spread, enabling them to conduct more targeted research, determine which areas of the country are most at risk and work with hunters to prevent further spread.

In March, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed changes to the Chronic Wasting Disease Herd Certification Program standards. Through this voluntary program, captive cervid herds can be certified as at low risk for CWD, which allows the animals to be moved between states. TWS submitted comments, recommending that the standard be strengthened to more effectively prevent the spread of CWD.

A similar CWD bill was introduced in the House in June by Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-La., and subsequently referred to the agriculture and natural resources committees. TWS joined with other members of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners in September to support that bill and two other pieces of legislation dealing with CWD, the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act (H.R. 4454) and the Chronic Wasting Disease Support for States Act (S. 2252). Congress has not yet held hearings on any of these bills and lawmakers will have to move quickly on the legislation if they hope to pass it before Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

Read the TWS Position Statement on wildlife disease and learn more in the Technical Review.

Header Image: CWD has been found in 25 states in the U.S. and two Canadian provinces. ©BLM Wyoming