I-Team: The threat of Chronic Wasting Disease
BUTLER COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - It's spreading across the country, and no one really knows how to stop it.
A deadly, incurable disease threatens our wildlife.
It could impact you, whether you enjoy the great outdoors or not.
Chronic Wasting Disease has been around in the United States for several decades, but it is fairly new to the Heartland.
Deer hunting is big business in the state of Missouri.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation it brings in $1.2 billion a year.
"The whitetail deer is very important to the state of Missouri, both culturally and financially," said Jason Sumners-Deer Biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
It's a sport rich in tradition, and is a real money maker for small towns.
"We have some of the finest whitetail in the world here," said Dave Murphy-Conservation Federation of Missouri.
Chronic Wasting Disease could change everything.
"It affects all us of, whether we hunt or not," said Dave Murphy.
Murphy is the executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.
It is an organization with an aggressive new approach to tackling C.W.D.
"It's a huge deal," said Murphy.
Chronic Wasting Disease attacks the nervous system of cervids...like deer, elk and moose.
It's very contagious and deadly.
However, it is not transmitted to humans.
"There aren't any obvious answers," said Murphy. "There's no cure and no way to get rid of it."
C.W.D. was first discovered in the late 1960s out west. It's now in several states, including Illinois and Missouri.
So far it has not been detected in Kentucky or Tennessee.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the first three case were detected in captive deer in Missouri between 2010 and 2011 at two private hunting preserves owned by Heartland Ranch in Linn and Macon counties.
In 2012, eight more cases were found at the Macon County hunting facility.
This prompted a six county wide testing of harvested deer.
10 free-ranging deer have now tested positive. All of them were found within a couple miles of the Macon County hunting preserve.
Robert Brundage owns 550 acres of land about 10 miles from that ranch.
"We hunt deer and turkey on that property," said Brundage.
New restrictions, and fears now jeopardize family tradition.
"The opportunity to hunt and enjoy deer hunting in Missouri could be decimated in the future," said Brundage.
Brundage enjoys hunting with his family, including his two children.
He says it's not the same since the introduction of Chronic Wasting Disease near his family farm.
As of today, testing and background checks are the Department of Agriculture's responsibility.
The Department of Conservation handles the management side of things.
"Both agencies need to do a better job," said Brundage.
The Conservation Federation of Missouri is hitting this issue hard.
Its members are handing out business cards with facts about Chronic Wasting Disease.
The group says Chronic Wasting Disease could slash rural Missouri land values, sales, and property tax revenues.
Some say it's not that serious.
"I think this disease has been a little hysterical," said Kurt Humphrey.
Kurt Humphrey co-owns Beaver Creek Ranch in Butler County.
There you will find 800 acres of fenced in property for an all-inclusive hunting experience.
"When you go into my place it's going to look like a natural environment, it's no different on the outside than on the inside," said Humphrey.
Hunters go there seeking trophy bucks.
"It's made to take the stress out of hunting," said Humphrey.
Does convenience come at a price?
The Conservation Federation just rolled out a lengthy list of resolutions to aggressively attack the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.
Many of them would directly impact the deer farmers and ranch owners like Kurt.
"Their intentions are radical," said Humphrey.
Proposals include a moratorium on new or expanded hunting preserves and deer farms and requiring not only taller fences but double fencing too.
"Economic impact on us, probably close to $300,000 to double fence my place, and there's no proof it can be transmitted nose to nose," said Humphrey.
However, because Missouri's cases originated in captive deer, there's a push to regulate even more.
"We're 10 years C.W.D free," said Humphrey. "We test 100% of the animals that die on our place."
That is a voluntary decision. The Conservation Federation is pushing to make it mandatory.
The group also wants to ban importing out of state deer to big game hunting preserves and breeders.
It's something deer hunter Robert Brundage would like to see.
"The transportation of this disease needs to be monitored," said Brundage.
"We put our test in the Department of Agriculture to make sure we get healthy animals," said Humphrey.
Right now there is no live test available for Chronic Wasting Disease. The only option is to test the animals after they die.
"It's still a disease we don't know much about," said Humphrey.
"I think the best we can do is buy time," said Dave Murphy with the Conservation Federation.
While scientists study this disease, the topic is also top of mind at the state capitol.
A recent proposal to classify deer as livestock didn't make it very far.
As for the resolutions, those won't be up to lawmakers to enact.
Those will be up to the Conservation Department.
"All the things the Conservation Federation has moved forward on are things we're seriously considering," said Jason Sumners.
"I think we're going to find more cases of C.W.D. in the wild in Missouri," said Humphrey.
Humphrey is convinced hunters who bring back deer from other states, or areas near where C.W.D. was found is part of the problem.
"We have to figure out how to control the carcases," said Humphrey.
Wildlife experts aren't as worried about today, as they are about years down the road.
"The long term effects of this disease in the areas in the west where they've had this for decades, they've seen a 45% reduction in the deer herd," said Dave Murphy.
Which is where the bottom could fall out of this huge economic force.
"It matters less where it came from, we've got it so what do we do next," said Murphy.
As for the resolutions, there is currently no timeline on if or when the Conservation Department would act.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture declined an on camera interview regarding this topic.
The department did though release the following statement.
"The Missouri Department of Agriculture takes its role in protecting the health of Missouri's livestock very seriously and continues to work to prevent, identify and, as necessary, eradicate disease throughout the state," said Christine Tew-Department Spokeswoman.
"The Department was recently notified that efforts to strengthen its CWD program resulted in it being designated an Approved State Chronic Wasting Disease Herd Certification Program by USDA-APHIS. Through participation in the voluntary program, including inspections, testing and detailed record keeping, Missouri producers shipping animals interstate have the opportunity to certify their herds as being low risk for the neurological disease. More than 180 Missouri farms currently participate in the voluntary program."
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