By Richard Thorpe, president, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was found in an intensively managed white-tailed deer herd, a deer breeder operation, in Medina County in 2015, and was discovered in a free-ranging mule deer population in the Hueco Mountains in far West Texas in 2012.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) testing — conducted since 2002 on more than 32,000 samples — indicates that CWD is not in the free-ranging white-tailed deer population.
CWD is to deer what mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE) is to cattle. It is a transmissible disease that causes infected deer to weaken and die.
Like the beef industry response to BSE in cattle, it is reasonable to expect the wildlife management community’s response to CWD in captive white-tailed deer herds to be aggressive, with the goals of containing the disease and protecting the white-tailed deer population.
Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) leaders and members support Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) efforts to manage and control the spread of this serious wildlife disease. We support the wildlife agency’s collaboration with Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) to establish proper testing protocols. We encourage the agencies to communicate these protocols and regulations to landowners, deer breeders and hunters so each interested party can participate in mitigating the spread of this disease.
This issue is about wildlife and wildlife enthusiasts of Texas. Nearly 1 million Texas hunters depend on our state’s 4.5 million white-tailed deer for recreation and food. Deer hunting in Texas provides an estimated $4 billion annual economic impact. Income from white-tailed deer hunting leases keeps rural lands intact and provides habitat for all wildlife. The safety of that resource is paramount.
TPWD hosted significant discussion among wildlife and landowner groups to develop rules regulating deer breeder operations to mitigate the spread of CWD.
TSCRA members and staff observed these discussions and participated when it was appropriate. TPWD was inclusive and thorough in its discussion process, including members from the stakeholder groups that wanted to participate.
TPWD is not an animal health agency, so it asked for assistance from the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the agency in charge of protecting the health of Texas livestock.
Working together, TPWD and TAHC developed protocols to control the movement of deer from infected herds to contain the spread of the disease and, it is hoped, to manage the disease through ante- and postmortem testing.
If CWD were to get into the free-ranging deer population, it is unlikely that we would be able to eradicate the disease.
Texas is not alone in managing against CWD. According to TPWD, “The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has monitored an infected mule deer population in southeast Wyoming. In 2001, there were an estimated 14,393 mule deer and a CWD prevalence of 15 percent. Ten years later, the disease prevalence was 57 percent and the population was estimated at less than 7,500 deer.”
Texas is the only state to allow deer from breeder herds to be liberated into the wild and comingled with free-ranging deer. In many other states that have “shooting preserves” 100 percent of all deer harvested must be tested.
We went through our own bout of managing this type of disease with the cow that stole Christmas in 2003.
BSE was found in 1 dairy cow imported from Canada into Washington State. U.S. cattle markets and consumer confidence collapsed, beef consumption dropped, export markets were closed, and billions of dollars were lost.
Thankfully, we had national and state plans in place well in advance of this crisis and swift actions were taken to control the spread of this disease. The recovery was long, difficult and expensive, but we were successful in controlling the disease and restoring the confidence of consumers and export markets.
As recently as June of this year, it was reported that BSE is, for the most part, no longer a major issue in the U.S. and around the world. This would not have been possible without tough decisions, advanced planning, financial investment and quick responses.
However, the BSE threat, like many other diseases, still exists. Therefore, laws and regulations remain in place to help control these diseases.
These laws and regulations are not always easy or cheap, but they are necessary for our future. We have adapted, and continue to look for ways to prevent and control livestock and wildlife diseases in the U.S. and Texas.
Now that the regulations regarding white-tailed deer from CWD-infected herds have been developed, we encourage TPWD and TAHC to continue their productive communication with landowners and hunters, ensuring that all interested parties know the rules and how to comply with them. As this disease is contained, we hope TPWD will monitor, evaluate and amend these rules to reflect the most current status of CWD in Texas.
The continued effort to control CWD is crucial to prevent devastating losses to deer populations and the private landowners who have voluntarily invested in the conservation and management of these public resources.
Granted, managing a disease in a livestock species is different than managing a disease in a wildlife species, but protocols must be put into place to protect the health of the deer population as a whole.
If we don’t take swift action when we have a disease outbreak, we won’t have a herd to manage in the future.
Richard Thorpe, III is the owner and operator of Mesa T Ranch, headquartered in Winters, Texas. Thorpe currently serves as the president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), and he became a TSCRA director in March 2006.