Chronic Wasting Disease is the plague of the prairies, the steadily spreading disease that can ultimately ruin deer, elk and moose populations in Wyoming and elsewhere.
Given the attention it is now receiving, CWD is practically a flavor-of-the-month problem, as Wyoming Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 25 other states grapple with the incurable illness.
In the wildlife world, employing studies, tests, data review, everything known to management, this is like trying to cure cancer.
So far CWD and cancer remain resistant to the sharpest of mankind’s brain power. G&F is currently putting the finishing touches on a revamped plan to better understand and prevent an out-of-control CWD rampage through herds.
A CWD Collaborative Process involving the public has been underway for months. In May and June informational meetings were held. July-September CWD Working Group Meetings were conducted. An interim report was produced in the fall. In December, a series of CWD Informational Meetings were held in six Wyoming cities, though not in Cody.
Also in December, G&F Director Brian Nesvik testified in Washington, D.C. on the evils of CWD.Nesvik appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, one chaired by Republican Wyoming Senator John Barasso.
Nesvik testified CWD is a critical issue for Wyoming, but noted it is also a national issue, a very true observation given the way the disease keeps spreading regularly to new states.
Nesvik said solving the CWD mess will take communication and joint efforts of state and federal government agencies, politicians, non-governmental environmental groups and academicians.
“Since we discovered CWD in our state 40 years ago,” Nesvik told the committee, “we have looked at all options to find solutions to slow its spread and seek answers to tough questions. We have engaged in our own vaccine research in the past and worked with regional and national experts to share ideas and identify potential management options.”
All laudable, nobody else has come up with a cure or a way to slow the advance of CWD. The illness is a fatal wasting disease that attacks the nervous system, driven by what are described as abnormally folded proteins called prions.
Interestingly, one conservation group chiming in on G&F’s evolving management plan, which is expected to be reviewed by the G&F Commission at its March meeting, is the Sierra Club.
Among the suggestions from that organization as possible ways to help curtail CWD spread are banning the private feeding of wildlife in the state, safe disposal of CWD-suspected and positively infected carcasses, and a study of human health impacts from CWD.
As devastating as chronic wasting has been to ungulates, and as it only shows signs of increasing, it is always good to remember that there has never been a single case of CWD spread from animal to human.
If that happens, it will be horrifying, with massive repercussions within the hunting community.
The political will to work for preservation of wildlife populations nationwide is of great import. Yet really the only solution is a medical one.