The day is muggy, hot and still as I write this editorial. It's July in Missouri so what else could you expect but a sultry day? Despite the oppressive summer meltdown I can feel the approach of the fall deer season. I can almost taste it. The opening day of archery season will be here before you know it. Not long after that temperatures start to cool down and the soybeans start yellowing, crickets start chirping and then there's that first frost. I can't wait.
In the past several issues you've read about the deadly deer disease known as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). As you know by now CWD has been found here in Missouri. It was first discovered in captive deer at a high-fenced hunting operation in Linn County in Feb. 2010. The second case of CWD was also found at a different high-fenced hunting operation in Macon County in Oct. 2011. Both hunting operations were owned by the same entity. It was after these first two cases of CWD, both found in high-fenced hunting operations, that the dreaded disease was soon discovered in our free-ranging and wild deer herd.
I think the important thing to note here is that the two wild CWD positive deer were discovered within just two-miles of the captive deer facility in Macon County. All together Missouri has now tested positive for CWD in 11 captive whitetails (all from the Linn and Macon county high-fenced hunting operations) and 10 free-ranging whitetails. All of the free-ranging positives were found within the CWD Containment Zone which is around the captive facilities.
It's my opinion and others' that these commercial deer operations do pose a significant risk to our free-ranging deer herd. These high-fenced commercial operations include breeding and hunting facilities. When it comes to captive whitetail deer, there are 27 permitted big-game hunting preserves in Missouri with whitetail deer and 277 permitted wildlife breeders with whitetail deer. However, these facilities are not limited to whitetail deer. They also include elk farms and any other high-fenced operations that hold cervids (members of the deer family).
The hard fact is that CWD is here in Missouri and now we've got to get proactive in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading outside the CWD Containment Zone.
I want you to know that I currently sit on an ad-hoc CWD committee with the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) and we are diligently working as a group of like-minded conservationists to try and come up with solutions to curb or stop this disease from devastating our whitetail deer resource. The CFM's CWD Considerations Committee has met several times and has come up with some talking-point cards to help educate the public about CWD and what can be done to help stop or at least slow down the spread of the disease. I've included a letter from the Conservation Federation of Missouri's President, Richard Ash and the two educational and informative talking-point cards. The letter and cards reflect how vitally important it is for you to become proactive in the fight against CWD in Missouri.
Recently, Missouri House of Representatives Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka appointed an interim House committee which will look at CWD and search for legislative solutions to help combat the spread of the disease. Jones named Representative Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, as the committee chair and Representative Robert Ross, R-Yukon as vice chairman. Other members of the committee include: Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg; Caleb Jones, R-Columbia; Randy Pike, R-Adrian; Rocky Miller, R-Tuscumbia; Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff; Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane; Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre; Ben Harris, D-Hillsboro; T.J. McKenna, D-Festus; and Ed Schieffer, D-Troy.
This Interim CWD House Committee will begin holding sessions in July. The first session was held Monday, July 15 at the State Capitol. Additional Interim House Committee sessions on CWD will be held as follows: Monday, August 19 in Buffalo, MO (time and place to be determined); Tuesday, September 10; 1-3 p.m. at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, HR 6; and Thursday, October 10 in Poplar Bluff, MO (time and place to be determined).
I attended the first Interim House Committee meeting with other members of the Conservation Federations CWD committee. I would describe the first session as somewhat heated. The meeting began with testimony from the Missouri Department of Conservation's (MDC) Resource Science Division Chief, Mike Hubbard followed by MDC's State Wildlife Veterinarian, Kelly Straka. Hubbard and Straka did their best to explain to the House Committee about CWD. Hubbard and Straka's testimony lasted for about an hour or a little over half of the meeting.
The next major witness giving testimony about CWD was Dr. James C. Kroll who gave his opinion on the dreadful disease. Kroll is a well known wildlife biologist because of his many appearances on TV hunting shows and from articles he has written that appear in many outdoor magazines. Kroll stated that he was not there taking sides on this matter. However it is my personal opinion that it was obvious from his testimony that he was on the side of the captive cervid industry. Kroll also said that he drove all the way from Texas to testify without compensation but that he would be reimbursed for his mileage to get there. The question is, who is reimbursing him?
One thing Dr. Kroll didn't mention to the House Interim Committee is that he himself is a licensed deer breeder in the state of Texas. It is my opinion that since he is a licensed deer breeder that this poses a direct conflict of interest, and his testimony should be disregarded from the House records.
Several other witnesses gave their testimony about CWD including members of the Conservation Federation of Missouri's CWD Considerations Committee, and members of the captive cervid industry (high-fenced deer hunting/deer breeding operations) in Missouri.
There are two very opposing opinions on the CWD issue. There are those whom believe that the captive cervid (deer/elk) industry poses a high risk of spreading CWD (the captive cervid industry includes high-fenced commercial hunting ranches, elk farms and deer breeding operations in Missouri). The opposing view believes that the captive cervids (penned deer/elk and other cervids) pose no greater threat of spreading the disease than the wild deer and elk of Missouri themselves.
The Missouri Deer Hunter's Association and Missouri Deer hunter magazine, and I, personally stand behind the Missouri Department of Conservation and conservation organizations like the Conservation Federation of Missouri who are trying to proactively prevent CWD from spreading outside the six county CWD Zone in northern Missouri. It is my opinion that these conservation organizations must work together with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the captive cervid industry in Missouri towards a solution to the problems facing Missouri and the CWD dilemma. But if we really want results we need to tighten the rules regulating the captive cervid industry.
Inside this issue I have also included an extremely important and poignant article written by James E. Miller titled A Growing Threat -- How Deer Breeding Could Put Public Trust Wildlife at Risk. This is a must read article which fully explains the risks associated with high-fenced deer breeding/hunting operations and the spread of CWD to our wild deer and elk populations.
I'll end this editorial with a quote from Miller's article which sums up how important the CWD issue is to ALL of us, including the captive cervid industry. “Not everyone will understand the gravity of the issue or be willing to take action, but it is our responsibility to educate people about wildlife resource issues and good stewardship. So stay informed, get your facts straight, present them logically, partner with others, and be persistent. If we are complacent, our profession will lose, wildlife will lose, those who follow us will lose, and our hunting heritage could be lost forever.”
Here are the email addresses to the Representatives on the Interim CWD Committee: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; and TJ.McKenna@house.mo.gov. I also urge you to contact the MDC's Director Bob Ziehmer at 573-751-4115.