Friday, September 19, 2008

MICHIGAN OPINION: Lessons from CWD Outbreak

Those things that hurt, instruct. - Ben Franklin

Although the dust is settling somewhat from the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in a single Kent County deer, and the state began lifting quarantines on some deer farms this week, the end of the story is hardly in sight and there are likely to be important lessons along the way.

Those will surely include how one deer mysteriously turned up with this fatal neurological infection. Another is likely to be the need to increase funding for the captive cervid program in both the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture.

The state legislature chose to sanction the development of a deer livestock industry in 1990, but it has been negligent about ponying up the needed funds for the regulatory program that goes with it.

"The law went into effect in 2000 but the program has been unfunded," said Bridget Patrick, spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Patrick is referring to PA 190, of 2000 which called for the creation of a deer livestock industry in Michigan under the Department of Agriculture. It also took the old captive deer permit program away from the DNR. MDA was to monitor and enforce animal health standards on deer and elk breeding farms. The DNR would license the facilities and physical plant.

DNR staff say less than a dozen of the facilities and fences are out of compliance today. But a 2005 audit of the captive cervid industry found that 37 percent of the breeding facilities did not comply with the rules for the industry. MDA officials today say that 240 still are not in full compliance.

Some of those are serious offenses. Some are not, but a 37 percent non-compliance rate is far too high for comfort.

MDA lifted quarantines on 11 deer farms this week. They were the best of the best in terms of meeting state rules. Another 50, or so, are expected to get the nod in the next few weeks.

That leaves more than 500 others still in quarantine. A third group may take longer, according to Steve Halstead, the state veterinarian with MDA. Much will depend on how far and wide the investigation goes.

And then there is a fourth group.

"These are the bad actors," Halstead said. "They are not in compliance, don't know their inventories, have not gotten the proper inspections and have been outside the program entirely. For them it could be a year or more."

Call it the price of non-compliance.

MDA officials acknowledge that they are shorthanded. More diseases are popping up than they are prepared to handle.

"We don't have funding for all we need to do," said Nancy Frank, the assistant state veterinarian with MDA. "We are also dealing with TB, pseudorabis and feral swine.

"If it was only CWD and feral swine, we could handle that," Frank said. "But we were not designed to handle all the diseases at one time."

The result is MDA staff are now spread thin. Staff working on pseudorabis and swine have been shifted to handle CWD, she said.

The Michigan DNR is also biting the bullet. Their part of the captive cervid program costs the agency approximately $360,000 a year, according to Shannon Hannah, a wildlife biologist who oversees the captive cervid program.

The program collected $164,000 total in license fees from the breeders this year. That is considerably less than half of what it costs to administer the program between the two agencies.

Another $158,000 was appropriate from the General Fund. The balance was drawn from the Fish and Game Fund, money paid by hunters and anglers, justified as money to protect the wild deer herd.

Hannah, the sole staff dedicated to the program, says she spends more time in court dealing with non-compliant deer breeders than she does out in the field. She relies on field biologists and conservation officers do a lot of the leg work inspecting facilities.

"One by one we are getting there, but it takes awhile to get through 600 facilities," Hannah said. "We are just giving them ultimatums: 'Fix the fence and get the animals tested or you're done."

The alternative, is, of course, unacceptable. Non-compliance puts a $500 million economic boost at risk with deer hunting. That says nothing of the $50 million deer breeding industry.

MDA and MDNR have both reacted admirably in the face of the CWD crisis. Both have done commendable jobs. But neither is adequately funded for the work on an ongoing basis.

That's something the Michigan legislature needs to take to heart.

Source: MLive

No comments: