Conservation groups hope Congress comes through with CWD Relief

Mike Moen
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

DEVILS LAKE - The spread of chronic wasting disease in deer and elk is a concern in North Dakota. Conservation groups hope bills making their way through Congress get more support to states to research and manage it.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act, which passed the U.S. House this month, would help states and tribes learn more about CWD and share strategies for addressing new cases.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act, which passed the U.S. House this month, would help states and tribes learn more about CWD and share strategies for addressing new cases.

Mike Leahy - director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for the National Wildlife Federation - said getting this deadly disease under control is critical before it affects hunting seasons. Leahy said hunters are a big part of the conservation community.

"If those numbers of deer and elk went down because of chronic wasting disease," said Leahy, "or if the number of hunters went down, that could have a direct impact on how much funding goes into wildlife management of deer, elk - but then also, wildlife management of other species."

CWD, first found in North Dakota in 2009, attacks the brain of the infected animal and is contagious and fatal.

As for the House bill, it's co-sponsored by the state's lone congressman, Rep. Kelly Armstrong - R-Dickinson. It has been referred to a Senate committee.

Separately, there's the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, which would provide major funding to address the decline of wildlife species overall. Leahy said together, the two bills would ensure work done to recover deer and elk populations isn't in jeopardy.

"There was historic efforts to restore those populations, by hunters in particular and a lot of other wildlife supporters," said Leahy. "Those are some of our greatest wildlife conservation success stories, and that success is certainly at risk by this disease."

North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven - R-N.D. - has introduced past Senate bills dealing with CWD and conservationists hope he backs these measures.

John Bradley, executive director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the efforts can help with rapid-response testing.

Separately, there's the Recovering America's Wildlife Act, which would provide major funding to address the decline of wildlife species overall. Leahy said together, the two bills would ensure work done to recover deer and elk populations isn't in jeopardy.

"Hunters want to know that their deer is clear of CWD before they can eat it," said Bradley. "The testing also gives the state agency, North Dakota Game and Fish, that proper data to really get an assessment of where CWD is on the landscape."

North Dakota hasn't seen population declines linked to CWD like other states, but officials still want to avoid it. Conclusions on human transmission is unclear, but consumption of meat from infected animals is discouraged.