Academic journal article Environmental Law

Chronic Wasting Disease of Deer and Elk: A Call for National Management

Academic journal article Environmental Law

Chronic Wasting Disease of Deer and Elk: A Call for National Management

Article excerpt

I.   INTRODUCTION
II.  A PRIMER ON CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
     A. Prion Diseases: What Are They?
     B. History and Distribution of Chronic Wasting Disease
     C. Diagnoses and Treatment
     D. Implications for Wildlife Managers
III. ALTERNATIVE LIVESTOCK OPERATIONS
     A. Game Ranching and Farming in North America
     B. Management of Game Ranches and Farms
IV.  MANAGEMENT OF CWD: PAST AND PRESENT
     A. Models for Preventing CWD Introduction into Captive Cervid
        Herds
     B. CWD Detection in Free-Ranging Deer and Elk
     C. Other CWD-Related Regulations
     D. Responses to CWD Once Detected
     E. Federal Management Thus Far
V. SUGGESTIONS FOR FUTURE CWD MANAGEMENT
     A. Authority for Federal Management
     B. Federal Permits for Alternative Livestock Operations
        1. Prevention of Introduction
        2. Isolation of Captive Herds
        3. Surveillance and Depopulation of Infected Herds
     C. Recommendations for Uniform State Management
VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an infectious, naturally occurring, always fatal, progressively degenerative, neurological disease affecting at least three members of the deer family (Cervidae or Cervid) (1) that is spreading in several states. (2) As a result, state and federal governments and private organizations are scrambling to develop management plans and implement legislation and regulations to control the disease. (3) Without a forceful regulatory response, CWD will likely lead to significant declines in cervid populations, increases in state and federal management expenditures, and significant negative economic impacts to rural communities that depend on wildlife-related recreation. (4)

Although CWD is endemic to northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming, and northwestern Nebraska, recently the disease has spread well beyond the endemic area. (5) Chronic wasting disease has been identified in at least 12 states and 2 Canadian provinces--Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and most recently Utah in the United States; Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. (6)

The recent spread of the disease into non-endemic areas is probably associated with the sale and transport of domestic deer and elk from contaminated alternative livestock facilities--also known as game ranches or farms. (7) Alternative livestock operations represent a significant business in North America; for example, in 1996, there were approximately 60,000 deer farmed in North America on more than 100 venison-producing livestock operations. (8) In addition to deer, elk are farmed extensively throughout North America; there are an estimated 160,000 elk in captivity on 2,300 U.S. and Canadian elk ranches. (9) Since 1997, CWD has been detected in at least 24 privately owned elk herds in 8 states. (10) Private game ranches are thought to be the source of many of the outbreaks in free-ranging cervid populations in non-endemic areas--known as "spillover" infections. (11) These spillover events likely occur either via 1) captive animals escaping and infecting the wild population, 2) free-ranging animals entering the enclosure and then being released after infection, or 3) some level of contact through the enclosure fencing which leads to infection.

Unlike most infectious diseases, CWD does not appear to have an equilibrium point at which the disease ceases to increase in prevalence and coexist with uninfected populations. (12) The disease appears to either result in continuously increasing disease prevalence within the local cervid population or, if population densities are sufficiently low, an eventual loss of CWD from the population. (13) Population modeling only showed a loss of CWD from the simulated population when an extensive, selective cull (i.e., removal and destruction of target animals in specific locations) occurred, thereby reducing the transmission rate or resulting in the death of the infected animals before transmission could occur. …

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