Pair of bills moving in Congress target CWD

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Two bills in Congress target chronic wasting disease

May 23, 2002

By Robert Gehrke/Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress from Colorado and Wisconsin introduced legislation Thursday aimed at stopping the spread of chronic wasting disease -- a lethal brain disease that strikes deer and elk.

Separate bills in the House and Senate seek to set up a federal structure to work with state wildlife programs and to establish to combat the mysterious malady.

The proposals also call for a certification process for labs testing animals for wasting disease, grants to state wasting disease programs and expanded research aimed at finding a way to test live animals for the disease, learn more about how it is spread and to potentially find a cure.

"Increased research and research funding is necessary because the disease is quite simply a mystery. The origin and transmission of CWD is unknown," Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., the sponsor of the Senate bill, said in a statement. "The only way to treat an animal or to contain the disease is to destroy the animal and cull the herd."

Colorado wildlife officials killed 10,000 wild deer in the last year. Wisconsin officials are proposing eradicating 15,000 to 18,000 deer this year in an area of the state where 18 deer have been confirmed this year as having the disease.

Chronic wasting disease is a relative of mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Infected animals become weak and develop brain lesions. CWD is always fatal, but is not believed to be transmissible outside of deer or elk.

The disease has been found in captive and wild deer and elk in parts of Colorado, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota and into Canada.

Although tonsil samples are being used to test some deer, but the only method to diagnose the disease in elk and other types of deer is to run tests on the dead animal's brain. Scientists are also baffled about how the disease is spread.

Officials in Colorado and Wisconsin are particularly concerned that if the disease is allowed to spread it could devastate their multi-million-dollar hunting industries.

Allard's bill would authorize spending $28 million to develop management strategies, perform computer models on the spread of the disease, survey and monitoring of herds, expand testing and research, and make grants to states.

The Senate bill is cosponsored by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., and Wisconsin Democrats Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

"These bills bring into focus a long-range plan to combat CWD," said Kohl.

"We must act now to end this disease," said Feingold.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., would authorize spending $27 million on wasting disease programs. It is co-sponsored by Wisconsin Republican Reps. Mark Green and Paul Ryan, and Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.

"We've got a bipartisan group of folks from both houses of Congress already on board, and that's what is going to help get these bills moved on a fast track," said Green.

Said Ryan: "As an avid bow and gun hunter myself, I know firsthand how vital deer hunting is to Wisconsin's culture and our economy."

The bill seeks $7 million for new federal research, $15 million in grants to state wildlife programs, $2.5 million to create new diagnostic labs to identify the disease, a $1.5 million National Chronic Wasting Disease Clearinghouse database, and a $1 million wasting disease educational program.

McInnis said the bill also draws clear lines of authority for wasting disease programs, with the Interior Department working with state governments to track wild deer and elk herds and the Agriculture Department responsible for captive herds.

"We've managed to untangle the jurisdictional knots in a way that ensures the full attention is being paid to both the captive and wild CWD problem," McInnis said in a statement. "If we're going to be successful in fighting chronic wasting disease, we must fight the battle on both fronts."

The proposed spending is in addition to $21 million that Kohl has added to an emergency spending bill that was debated on the Senate floor this week and is expected to be voted on after Congress returns from the Memorial Day recess.

That funding includes $14 million for the Agriculture Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, $2 million for research, and $4 million in aid to Wisconsin CWD programs.
 

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