State officials say regulations approved by the Missouri Conservation Commission provide the best balance for keeping chronic wasting disease (CWD) out of the state and detecting any presence of the disease in time to control it.
In a special telephone conference call meeting Aug. 20, the Conservation Commission unanimously approved changes to regulations related to keeping captive deer and elk.
The Conservation Commission's action capped a year-long review of the rapidly changing CWD issue. The review included options to minimize risk of the disease for Missouri's deer herd and deer and elk held in captivity. CWD has not been detected in Missouri, but discoveries of CWD among wild or captive deer and elk in a succession of states lent urgency to the process.
"We have tried to take a calm, rational and responsible approach to this," said Conservation Commission Chairman Wood. "We recognize that this disease poses a threat to Missouri's wildlife, its agriculture and its economy. But acting out of fear, before we thought through all of the effects of our action, could have had tremendous negative effects, too."
Besides tightening regulations on captive deer and elk, Conservation officials also are implementing a three-year program of aggressive CWD monitoring for the state's wild deer herd. The plan calls for testing more than 6,000 hunter-killed deer from approximately 30 counties annually, beginning in the fall of 2002. Deer from all 114 of the state's counties will be tested within three years.
Hunters' participation in the testing program will be voluntary. The Conservation Department will collect deer heads at check stations and send tissue samples to a federally approved lab in Wyoming. Hunters who allow their deer to be tested will receive test results in four to six weeks.
Combined with this effort, the Conservation Department will continue following up on reports of sick deer and testing them as it did during the 2001-2002 hunting season. None of the deer tested last year had CWD.
Conservation Department research biologists designed the wild-deer testing program to provide a statistically valid sample in each county. Wildlife Research Supervisor Eric Kurzejeski said the sampling protocol will allow detection of CWD at an infection rate as low as 2 percent.
"We want to be sure we find any potential areas of concern early enough to take corrective action," he said.
Some of the new regulations approved by the Conservation Commission went into effect Sept. 1. That is when the Missouri Department of Agriculture's current moratorium on deer and elk importation expired.
The new regulations apply to Class I wildlife breeders and big-game hunting preserves that operate under Conservation Department permits.
They will require:
Tagging of all deer and elk imported into wildlife breeding or licensed hunting preserves to allow individual animal identification.
CWD testing of all deer and elk over 12 months of age that die of any cause in wildlife breeding facilities or breeding pens of licensed hunting preserves.
Enrollment of wildlife breeder operations and breeding pens of licensed hunting preserves in Missouri's chronic wasting disease monitoring program by March 31, 2003.
Maintaining records on deer and elk importation and CWD tests at breeding facilities and hunting preserves.
Immediate reporting of any positive CWD test results.
In addition to these regulations, the Commission approved a proposed rule that would go into effect March 31, 2003. It would require big-game hunting preserves that have introduced deer or elk into the hunting area within the previous year to test up to 10 harvested animals for CWD annually.
Education about other ways that CWD could enter Missouri is another important part of the Conservation Department's plan. The agency continues to provide information to Missouri meat processors and taxidermists to ensure safe handling of animals that come from other states.
Conservation Department publications also are widely available to provide information to help hunters handle harvested deer and elk safely.
The Conservation Department has regulatory authority over wild deer and over captive deer and elk at big-game hunting preserves. The state Agriculture Department is responsible for regulating farmed elk. In the past, the two agencies have worked together to control tuberculosis and brucellosis in wild and domestic animals.
To replace the current moratorium, the Agriculture Department will require anyone who wants to bring deer or elk into Missouri to get an entry permit from the state veterinarian. These animals will have to be tagged.
Animals from states with documented cases of CWD will only be eligible for permits if they come from facilities that have been enrolled in a government-sponsored CWD testing program for at least three years.
Starting Sept. 30, all deer and elk coming into Missouri, regardless of place of origin, will have to come from herds that are documented to be CWD free for the past three years. These efforts are consistent with CWD control plans being developed by federal officials.
Conservation Department Director John Hoskins said the Conservation Commission considered a ban on deer and elk importation. However, he said they concluded that a ban would provide neither short- or long-term benefits.
"The Commission already prohibits the introduction of deer or elk from states where CWD has been documented unless they come from a herd that has been CWD free for at least three years," said Hoskins. "Starting Oct. 1, all deer and elk brought into Missouri will have to meet this standard, regardless of where they come from. At this time, no captive deer herd can meet this requirement."