Archery seasons are well underway, and rifle hunting opportunities are right around the corner in most of the country. Unfortunately, that means hunters in more than 30 states have to contend with deer, elk, and moose that might be infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD).
CWD is an always-fatal prion disease that infects members of the cervid family—other diseases like mad cow, scrapie in sheep, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s in humans are thought to be caused by prions, as well. Although CWD has never been transmitted from deer to humans, the CDC recommends against eating venison from infected cervids just to be safe.
The Senate has a chance to make a strong investment in mitigating the effects of this disease by passing the CWD Research & Management Act (H.R. 5608/S. 4111). However, the only time they can do this is after the election is over in November, but before new legislators are seated in January. That’s a tight window, and if they don’t act, we’ll have to start all over.
That’s why it is more important than ever to give your senators a call and let them know that the CWD Research & Management Act is something that must get done before the end of this session.
What Will this Bill Do?
MeatEater covered this bill last spring, and the content of the legislation hasn’t changed since then. To recap, this bill would authorize $70 million to help state and tribal wildlife agencies fund CWD research and management efforts (to the tune of $35 million for each). This money would still be subject to annual appropriations, but it would become part of a dedicated program and be more reliable from year to year. The bill would also require the Secretary of Agriculture to comprehensively review the USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) herd certification program, which provides assurances to captive cervid operators who are seeking to move live deer from one facility to another.
The passage of this bill would build on USDA-APHIS’s existing cervid health program, which has received annual appropriations for the last five years. This has helped relieve these wildlife agencies' financial burden but is nowhere near sufficient to assist all the states dealing with (or preparing for) this disease. A recent poll suggests that 88 percent of polled individuals support additional federal investment in CWD management at the state level.
“The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act will help state and Tribal agencies maintain robust CWD programs,” said Torin Miller, director of policy for the National Deer Association. “It will help states test more deer, and make sure hunters feel comfortable eating their venison. I can’t overstate the importance of this bill for deer and deer hunters, and hope anyone reading this will make a call to help get this over the finish line.”
How Can You Help?
If you’re worried about CWD and want to make sure you can continue to feed your family venison that is safe, it’s time to call your senator.
“Several members of the American Wildlife Conservation Partners in Washington, D.C. have been working hard to keep this bill alive,” said Tony Schoonen, CEO of the Boone and Crockett Club. “Now is the time to call your senators and advocate for passing the CWD Research & Management Act before the end of this Congress.”
We laid out what you need to make that call in an article a few months ago, but here’s what you need to talk about this bill. You can use this handy list to find your senator’s office line. Don’t forget that we all have two of them to call.
Remember who you’ll be talking to. The person doing “constituent relations” for Senator So-and-So on any given weekday is likely an intern. They will likely sound very young and may or may not know anything about this issue. Ask them if you can talk to (or leave a message for) the person in the office who deals with agricultural issues. They may pass you along but will more likely just relay your message.
Start off the conversation with the basics. Let them know that you’re calling about CWD and the impact it’s having in your state. Explain why you’re concerned about CWD and how it affects you. Do you hunt in a CWD zone? If so, let them know. Have you been forced to pay out of pocket to test a deer for CWD? Tell them. Are you concerned about how much your state wildlife agency is spending on this disease, as opposed to habitat projects and other work? Make sure they’re aware.
Finish by delivering a clear request. In this case, the best thing to ask your Senator for is “to vote ‘YES’ on H.R. 5608, the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act when it reaches the Senate floor.”
If they ask, you can let them know that this is a mature proposal that has been in the works for the last two Congresses, and you can read them the text above about what this bill would do. It passed out of the House Agriculture Committee by a voice vote last year, and by huge margins (393-33) on the House floor. You can also assure them that this legislation has the support of both the wild and the captive cervid community, as well as numerous state and tribal wildlife agencies.
Remember, bills, laws, and money on their own can’t change the biology of the situation. But individuals can. In this case, those people—scientists, agency managers, and hunters like you and I—need all the help that we can get. We need this bill to pass to get the resources that we need to combat this disease.
What Else Can I Do?
If you’re lucky enough to put a tag on a deer, elk, or moose sometime this fall, make sure to help us all out by taking a couple of extra steps to stop the spread of CWD. If you don’t know how to do that, here are some materials to get you started.
CWD is becoming part of a new reality for hunters across North America, and it’s forcing many of us to reckon with choices that we never thought we’d have to make. Unfortunately, throwing away infected venison, or avoiding certain areas of the state, is now relatively common in places with CWD.
Today, we have an opportunity to make a generational investment in managing this disease, and time is of the essence to get this bill over the finish line. I’ve called my Senators, and I encourage you to do the same.
To learn more about CWD, visit the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance at https://cwd-info.org/