When it comes to Chronic Wasting Disease it is starting to seem the leadership of the Missouri House of Representatives serves the high-fence deer and elk industry over the public interest.
The confined cervid industry is made up of fenced animal shooting facilities and the breeders who provide their fodder, using genetics and hyper-nutrition to grow massive antlers on penned animals. This industry appears closely related to most large geographic leaps of CWD such as the one that brought it to north-central Missouri, likely via trade in live infected cervids (deer).
When Speaker of the House Timothy Jones (R-110, Eureka) appointed the "Interim Committee on Cause and Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in the Elk and White Tail Deer Population" those of us watching the issue hoped it would be a step in the right direction. The confused tangle of oversight of the confined cervid industry needs sorting out.
The committee chair (Sandy Crawford, R-129, Buffalo) announced their study of the topic would hit the road with four hearings, two in Jefferson City Jul 15 and Sep 10, one in Buffalo Aug 19 and one in Poplar Bluff Oct 10. All in southern Missouri.
This may have you scratching your head. Wasn't CWD found in Macon and Linn counties in north-central Missouri, where the MO Department of Conservation (MDC) declared a "CWD Containment Zone" with special regulations designed to slow the spread of CWD? Isn't that where residents and land owners have been most impacted by the disease? Is that not the where local officials are most concerned about loss of revenue and erosion of the tax base as property values drop and hunters go elsewhere to spend their money in the Fall?
Curious indeed. A mixed standing-room crowd packed Hearing Room 1 at the Jefferson City capitol building on Monday July 15th to see the first of these four meetings. There was hope for progress.
But the tone of the meeting seemed to indicate support for this industry which threatens the very future of deer hunting in Missouri. Disdain for the MDC clearly simmered near the surface. The poor, beleaguered deer breeding industry seemed more on the minds of many committee members than did any public interest in protecting the wild deer herd.
The 2 hour meeting featured about 10 minutes of testimony by MDC reps followed by 50 minute of grilling. Then about 35 minutes for a celebrity mouthpiece brought in from Texas (Dr. James Kroll, AKA "Dr. Deer") by the confined cervid industry.
His smooth and folksy delivery faltered not one bit as he actually informed the committee that CWD has always been in the herd and that if we leave the deer alone they will sort it out themselves. This bit of news would be a huge surprise for the scientific community that is actually researching the disease.
With the MDC grilled to well done, and the softball toss with "Dr. Deer" finally petering out, that left two minutes apiece for Missourians to address the committee.
After the meeting I took a closer look at who the Speaker of the House appointed to this committee and was saddened but not surprised by what I found.
Of the 13 members, House Speaker Jones appointed only one from a House district that covers any of the CWD containment zone. There are eight House districts overlapped by that zone. Seven of them, including the core area where the disease has already been found, are entirely unrepresented. Speaker Jones did not respond to a request for comment about this.
This map demonstrates the issue. Click on the map to see a larger image and a link to committee membership data:
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