CWD and politics
I wrote this Letter to the Editor for The Courier, a local newspaper, in response to a puzzling column by David Mosesso regarding CWD and politics as well as the real risks involved with the discovery of CWD positive deer and elk in Arkansas. Since the time this letter was published, CWD positive deer have been found in two other Arkansas counties including my home county of Pope.
Look for more about CWD in Arkansas on A View from the Back Roads as new information becomes available. Setting the tone for this discussion is vital to managing CWD, and I hope that my voice can help with that as Arkansas Game and Fish Commission personnel work toward containment of this disease.
By Johnny Carrol Sain
As an avid deer hunter and enthusiast of all things wild here in The Natural State, the recent findings of CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) positive elk and deer near Ponca concern me. I’ve Googled “CWD” more times than I care to count over the last few weeks. I’ve spoken with respected journalists who covered the disease. And I have a fair grasp on current research and methods of slowing the spread of CWD. Because of this knowledge, I take a questioning stance on Mosesso’s work in the column “The sky is not falling for deer hunters.”
I agree with some of Mosesso’s words. A measured and thoughtful reaction from deer hunters and wildlife lovers is the appropriate response to CWD. Neither panic nor apathy will do us, or the cervids (deer and elk), any good.
While there is still much research to be done, we already know quite a bit about CWD. According to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks — South Dakota has been battling CWD since 1997 — CWD is relatively rare in free-roaming herds. We also have a solid idea about how CWD is transmitted, and it’s the same vehicles by which most diseases are transmitted. According to the SDGFP website, CWD is transmitted from diseased animals to healthy through direct animal to animal contact and/or contamination of feed or water sources with saliva, urine, and/or feces. Evidence shows that infected carcasses may serve as a source of infection. CWD seems more likely to occur in areas where deer or elk are crowded (we’ll come back to the bold type words later) or where they congregate at man-made feed and water stations. Artificial feeding of deer and elk will likely compound the problem. CWD is caused by a prion. I’ll let the reader research what that means, but prions are different from other agents of disease. Prions can live in the soil for in indeterminable amount of time and CWD can find its way into healthy deer through vegetation sprouting around an area where a CWD-killed deer decomposed.
Mosesso claims that total herd annihilation from CWD is near impossible. But the truth is that no one really knows if it’s possible. According to High Country News, researchers are now documenting how CWD can in fact wipe out a local herd. Over half of a region’s mule deer herd in Wyoming has been eliminated by CWD in just 12 years. The disease destroys deer both directly, through disease fatalities, and indirectly through weakening the deer which makes them more susceptible to other dangers. Can this herd annihilation translate over to state level? Probably not in our lifetimes, but looking into the future with CWD infected deer is hazy at best.
But the paragraph in Mosesso’s column that prompted my letter to the editor was this: “If politics gets involved with CWD in our state, that’s where the real harm will be done. Some say CWD is a ‘political disease’ that is created by those who might benefit from it. That may be a strange way to look at it but if you do a little research on how it’s been portrayed in the past in other states, the shoe definitely fits.”
What, exactly, is meant by “political disease?” Could this be referring to methods used by wildlife agencies to stall and/or stop the spread of CWD? Who will benefit from CWD? How has CWD been portrayed in other states? How is this statement already portraying any effort by AGFC to control the disease?
I did some research based on Mosesso’s words, looking at ways to tie political benefit to the “creation” of CWD in the affected states. I came up with nothing. I did, however, note that regulations put in place to stop the spread of CWD ruffled the feathers of groups profiting from commodification of deer and deer products (deer farms). It really was a simple case of following the money and I didn’t need to look further than Missouri and the battle spearheaded by Conservation Federation of Missouri over deer farmers trying to legally turn whitetails into livestock. Deer farmers wanted to set their own rules geared toward profit instead of conservation and concern for the wild herd. This is an ideology running counter to the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation — that wildlife belongs to all of us — and the foundation for wildlife enjoyment opportunities we experience today. Is this one of the states Mosesso referred to where CWD was a created “political disease?” I ask that Mosesso explain his statement.
Let’s revisit those words in bold print. Like so many other communicable diseases, the spread rate of CWD is greater in a dense population. It could be argued that an increase in CWD cases is directly attributable to greater deer populations clustered on shrinking habitat or on a deer farm. It’s the same concept as exposure to a cold virus in a crowded elevator being greater than exposure while walking along a country road. The mass of cervid bodies traipsing through Ponca and Boxley Valley in recent years could support the argument about a denser population of deer and elk there leading to the outbreak. Correlation does not equal causation, but I believe this theory has some merit.
If Mosesso chooses to address wildlife disease and management in the future, I, as a reader of the Courier, ask that he conduct more research before writing. And above all — leave the explicit and/or implied politics out of it.