COLUMBIA — As
Christine Decoske approached the 8-foot-high fence, she spotted four dead and
decaying deer. After further inspection, Decoske found another eight carcasses
at Stinking Creek Whitetails, a small captive deer farm in Macon
agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, knew the 12 rotting deer
inside the fence could not be taken lightly. Chronic wasting disease — a deadly
neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose — had already infected two
ranches and subsequently was detected in wild deer near those
At a time when
chronic wasting disease has turned up in 21 states and two Canadian provinces,
wildlife biologists and animal health experts advise that every deer that dies
in a captive facility be tested at a federal laboratory.
None of the
dead deer found at Stinking Creek Whitetails was checked; they were too
decomposed. But even if the carcasses had been discovered earlier, the state
would have had no authority to order tests.
the owner of Stinking Creek Whitetails, was not enrolled in a voluntary program,
in which deer breeders agree to have the state test deer that die in
The case of
Stinking Creek Whitetails highlights gaps in Missouri's system of disease
prevention and early detection more than 10 years after disease regulations were
put into place and three years after the disease was first detected at a ranch
in Macon County.
Statewide regulation issues
A review of
Missouri’s regulatory system for captive deer facilities, which is jointly
controlled by the Missouri Conservation and Agriculture departments, shows the
regulatory problems go far beyond a single facility.
Department of Agriculture records, 131 of the 300 Missouri businesses that breed
deer or keep them fenced in for hunting are not enrolled in the voluntary
allows deer breeders to ship deer across state lines, but 43 percent of
Missouri's deer owners are not enrolled, and none of the 47 hunting ranches in
the state are required to test for the disease.
have also been found in annual inspections the Department of Conservation
requires of every captive deer business.
A review of
annual inspection reports showed conservation agents had not performed annual
inspections at 48 captive deer businesses in Missouri for the past three years;
others had only been visited once in that time span.
state audit from 2007 suggested the missed inspections go back to 2006. The
audit attributed the missed inspections to an unorganized system of inspections
and record keeping, problems that persist.
The hundreds of
pages of handwritten inspection forms also provide evidence of other problems at
farms and ranches across the state. Notes from conservation agents
- Instances of deer escaping and fences in disrepair.
Keeping captive deer separate from the wild population is one key to containing
- Owners not maintaining up-to-date records. Good
record keeping can be critical in tracing the source of diseased
- Unknown numbers of deer at facilities and unreported
and untested deaths, all of which experts and industry studies say place the
private operations — and the state's wild deer — at risk.
regulatory gaps highlight the struggle in Missouri to keep the disease at bay
three years after 11 deer were infected in 2010 at two properties owned by
Heartland Wildlife Ranches LLC in Macon and Linn counties. Since then, 10 wild
deer have tested positive for chronic wasting — all within a 29-square-mile area
surrounding the two contaminated ranches.
Efforts to quell the disease
In August 2012,
the risk of the disease spreading even farther prompted the Conservation
Department to put a temporary moratorium on issuing permits for new farms and
ranches, with eyes toward making that ban permanent. But the temporary ban was
lifted after opposition from captive deer owners.
month, the Conservation Department began holding meetings throughout the state
to notify the public of possible rule
changes that would tighten oversight
of the captive deer operations.
The rules would
increase the minimum height of fences or require double fencing. The rules could
also include more oversight of live deer, mandatory disease testing for every
permitted captive deer operation and a response plan for any facility
project coordinator for the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, an organization
focused on scientific information, said evidence suggests the captive operations
have played a role in transporting the disease to new areas of the
In Missouri and
11 other states, chronic wasting disease was first detected at a captive
Dunfee said the
main issue for containing the disease involves the interstate shipment of live
deer and elk. He pointed to numerous examples from the past in which infected
farms and ranches have shipped animals across the country.
for the captive deer industry think they are being unfairly blamed for the
spread of the disease.
former president of the Missouri Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch
Association, said the possibility of infected animals being shipped across state
lines has been reduced by state and federal rules that require five years of
monitoring before deer or elk can be shipped across state lines.
But even with
increased monitoring, the disease has spread to previously uninfected
spread of the elusive disease, which leaves animals emaciated, looking like
staggering skeletons, has hunters and wildlife biologists afraid it could
undercut the hunting industry and have ecological repercussions for the health
of forests and recovering populations of wolves and mountain lions in North
the Department of Conservation, the disease could "disrupt the $1 billion in
economic activity and 12,000 jobs that revolve around deer hunting and
History of the disease
disease was first documented in 1967 at a captive facility in Colorado and, for
decades, was relegated to Colorado and neighboring Wyoming. It wasn’t until the
late 1990s and early 2000s that it caught the attention of other
In a five-year
period from 1997 to 2002, seven states detected the disease for the first time,
and the rash of new cases sent wildlife officials across the country scrambling
to erect barriers.
banned the importation of all deer and elk; others closed down the captive deer
and elk industry altogether.
As of 2011, 16
states and one Canadian province had banned the import of all cervids — the name
for deer and elk species derived from the name of their scientific family,
Cervidae. Missouri and other states decided to regulate the captive deer
industry and allow owners who had invested thousands of dollars to millions of
dollars into their farms and ranches to continue operating.
Department of Conservation's leading deer biologists published a report in 2000,
urging the phasing out of existing captive deer operations, which numbered more
than 200 at that time. The Missouri Conservation Commission, which governs the
agency, declined to act on that proposal, preferring to regulate the industry
a co-author of the report, said allowing the industry to import deer into the
state was a risk the conservation commission was willing to take. “As an agency,
we had to weigh the positives and the negatives,” he said.
In the end, the
Conservation Department, which was the only state agency overseeing the
industry, opted to heighten regulations. The rules, which took full effect in
2003, called for deer imported into the state to come from monitored herds, for
every death within captive facilities to be tested and for every farm and ranch
to be inspected annually.
But in the past
10 years, the testing regulations have been loosened.
mandatory testing requirement was replaced by the voluntary testing program when
the Department of Agriculture took over animal health in 2010, and lapses in the
Department of Conservation's annual inspections of numerous operations have
A 2005 audit of
Michigan’s captive deer and elk industry, one of the most comprehensive ever of
industry regulations, covers many of the regulatory issues in Missouri: untested
deaths, record inaccuracies, undetermined deer populations, animal escapes and
unorganized inspection records — all of which can contribute to the spread of
chronic wasting disease.
confirmed its first case of chronic wasting disease at a captive facility in
2008 through routine, state-ordered testing. Regular state testing detected the
infected deer, and there have been no additional cases.
not been mandatory, the facility owner likely would not have tested the animal,
and spread could have occurred depending on how he disposed of the carcass of
the infected deer," said Dan O'Brien, a wildlife veterinarian for the Michigan
Department of Natural Resources and author of the 2005 audit.
important issue identified in the Michigan audit was lax testing of deer that
die in captive operations. According to the audit, “the lack of testing is the
greatest risk for introduction and propagation of the disease.”
chronic wasting disease project leader for the U.S. Geological Survey, said
mortality records are critical because testing is postmortem: “Without recorded
deaths, we can’t make a determination as to the cause of death."
the state having authority to determine cause of death seems reasonable to him,
adding that it wouldn’t be a question if agriculture officials found multiple
pigs or cows dead in a field.
cases from the past three years, the only way state officials learned about
deaths at operations not signed up for voluntary monitoring was when
conservation agents noticed there were more deer on record than inside a pen or,
in the case of Stinking Creek Whitetails, when dead deer were discovered by an
a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture, said the businesses not
enrolled bred deer that never switched ownership, raised deer for "ornamental
purposes" or raised deer for meat that's butchered in Missouri. The Department
of Agriculture also said it monitors interstate and intrastate movement of
Taking preventive measures
Whitetail Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association wants state agriculture
officials to require every captive operation to join the herd monitoring
“We have been
trying for a year to get everyone enrolled,” association President Sam James
said. “If you made it mandatory to be in the program, you wouldn’t have these
former association president, said owners remain hesitant to sign up for the
herd monitoring program because it is an “unfunded mandate,” and if chronic
wasting disease is found, owners are no longer compensated for the loss of their
herd, which is systematically killed off to prevent the spread of the
for indemnity payments to owners of infected herds was eliminated in 2011. But
before funding was cut, Jay Brasher, the former owner of Heartland Wildlife
Ranches, told the Missourian he was paid
more than $100,000 after the
government quarantined his two operations and killed all of the remaining
facility is tested only solves part of the problem. According to the Michigan
audit, government officials also need to enforce individual animal
identification and accurate record keeping that chronicles importation,
exportation, births and deaths.
Richards of the
Geological Survey said if the disease is detected, individual animal
identification and good record keeping are essential to the “trace-back
process,” in which officials determine what other animals could have been
exposed. “Without those records, we can’t look back in time and space,” he
inspection forms from the past three years show conservation agents routinely
ask owners to maintain better records.
Some of the
record-keeping issues seemed minor, such as not recording the birth of fawns or
a missing sales receipt. Other times, the issues are more serious, such as when
agents issued a citation to Raymond Wagler, a deer breeder in Pike County, after
he said he was unsure why 14 deer had disappeared from his property in two
In a 2012
inspection of Edwards Trophies, a farm in Adair County, conservation officials
recorded that the owner Larry Edwards became "aggressive" when he was issued two
citations for inaccurate records and "dispersing" deer without
At Dominic and
Frankie Lolli's farms in Macon County, multiple inspections from 2012 to 2013
found incomplete records, fences below the minimum 8-foot height and gaps
beneath fences. Conservation agents found one buck had escaped without the
owners' knowledge. The buck was later found dead outside the fence.
of Conservation still records inspections on individual sheets of paper that are
kept at the agency’s eight regional offices for only three years — even though
the 2007 Missouri audit directed conservation officials to fix those
and Randy Doman of the Department of Conservation’s Protection Division said
agents could have missed the annual inspections because either no deer were at
the facility or they could not set up a time to meet with the owner. They also
said inspection records being stored on paper at regional offices were not a
problem because conservation officials could get the records faxed.
Missouri and Michigan audits stress the importance of digitizing inspection
records for accessibility and archiving purposes. According to the Michigan
audit, electronic record keeping could “aid compliance, enforcement and disease
record system could cut down on repeat violators, such as the owner of Stinking
Creek Whitetails. In the two years leading up to when agent Decoske found the
dozen rotting deer, Ford had been warned about gaps beneath fences, inaccurate
records, unidentified deer and operating without a permit. After paying a $299
fine and $82 in court fees, Ford was issued another permit to continue
keeping is a deterrent to bad actors,” said O’Brien, the Michigan
“We knew we had
to get a lot more sophisticated about how we kept records," O'Brien said,
referring to his experience with Michigan’s records system in 2005.
The system is
now completely automated, he said. "I consider that one of the major
improvements that came out of the audit."
governments will have to decide how much of a risk they are willing to take,
said Dunfee of the the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, but "transmission will
only stop if rules are enforced."
"I'm not saying
that you shouldn’t be able to raise captive deer,” Dunfee said. “I’m just saying
that you should have accountability in your practices.”
Chronic wasting disease, a neurological disease found mostly in the
deer family, spread across North America beginning in 1967. Prior to 2000, the
disease was confined to parts of Colorado and Wyoming. No treatment has been
found for the fatal disease, and infected animal populations are exterminated to
prevent additional transmission. Graphics by Caitlin Campbell.
Big-game-hunting ranch owners must obtain a permit from the
Missouri Department of Conservation to hold captive deer behind a fence. These
ranches give hunters a chance to shoot captive deer. The permits inform the
department on the whereabouts of captive wildlife.
Deer breeders must obtain a permit from the Missouri Department of
Conservation to breed deer on their property. The majority of captive
white-tailed deer in Missouri belong to wildlife breeders.
First identified as a clinical disease in Colorado in 1967, chronic
wasting disease has spread throughout the United States and Canada. Found mostly
in the deer family, the neurological disease causes loss of body condition and
Sunday, August 25, 2013
***PRION2013 CONGRESSIONAL ABSTRACTS
Prion2013 Chronic Wasting Disease CWD risk factors, humans, domestic cats,
blood, and mother to offspring transmission
Sunday, July 21, 2013
***As Chronic Wasting Disease CWD rises in deer herd, what about risk for
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
***Review and Updates of the USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services (VS) National
Chronice Wasting Disease (CWD) Program 2012-2013
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
USAHA 116TH ANNUAL MEETING October 18 – 24, 2012 CWD, Scrapie, BSE, TSE
prion (September 17, 2013)
Thursday, August 08, 2013
***PRION2013 CONGRESSIONAL ABSTRACTS
Characterization of the first case of naturally occurring chronic wasting
disease in a captive red deer (Cervus elaphus) in North America
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
cwd - cervid captive livestock escapes, loose and on the run in the wild...
Sunday, September 01, 2013
hunting over gut piles and CWD TSE prion disease
Sunday, June 09, 2013
Missouri House forms 13-member Interim
Committee on the Cause and Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease CWD
Monday, January 16, 2012
9 GAME FARMS IN WISCONSIN TEST POSITIVE FOR CWD
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
CWD GONE WILD, More cervid escapees from more shooting pens on the loose in
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Cervid Industry Unites To Set Direction for CWD
Reform and seem to ignore their ignorance and denial in their role in spreading
Chronic Wasting Disease
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
*** A Growing Threat How deer breeding could put public trust wildlife at
Thursday, February 09, 2012
50 GAME FARMS IN USA INFECTED WITH CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE
Friday, August 31, 2012
COMMITTEE ON CAPTIVE WILDLIFE AND ALTERNATIVE LIVESTOCK and CWD 2009-2012 a
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Captive Deer Breeding Legislation Overwhelmingly Defeated During 2012
Saturday, February 04, 2012
Wisconsin 16 age limit on testing dead deer Game Farm CWD Testing Protocol
Needs To Be Revised
JOINT OVERSIGHT HEARING before the SUBCOMMITTEE ON FORESTS AND FOREST
HEALTH joint with the SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES CONSERVATION, WILDLIFE AND
OCEANS of the COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ONE HUNDRED
SEVENTH CONGRESS SECOND SESSION __________ May 16, 2002
So this is a disease that is spreading throughout the continent and it is
going to require a national response as well as the efforts that are currently
taking place in States like Wisconsin, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, the interest
they now have down in Texas and some of the neighboring States that have large
white-tailed deer population and also elk.
I would like to emphasize that the appearance of CWD outside of its
previous historic range in northeastern Colorado threatens more than just the
elk and deer of our State. If allowed to persist unchecked, the disease has the
potential to negatively impact rural economies that rely heavily upon tourism
and hunting--activities that are directly dependent upon abundant and healthy
wildlife. It is for these reasons that the Governor of Colorado requires an
aggressive approach to controlling and eliminating CWD. Last month Governor
Owens also appointed a special State task force of affected interests and
experts to monitor our management progress and to recommend new actions to
combat this threat. He has also joined with other Western Governors to exchange
information and to facilitate a more coordinated regional management approach.
Such sharing and coordinating of information will be a key to the successful
management of CWD.
Dr. Miller. Part of the interpretation, I think, is to understand, Mr.
Tancredo, that the disease was not even recognized as an infectious disease for
the first ten or so years that it was recognized, but based on what we have seen
in terms of the patterns of spread within northeastern Colorado, for example,
and southeastern Wyoming, it appears that it is slowly working its way out and,
quite honestly, it has been there for a while but probably has not been there
for hundreds of years.
***Dr. Miller. --in terms of looking at it in the wild. Well, but again,
understand that, really, over about the last 10 years, we have really had the
tools and the understanding to begin looking at it in the wild and what we have
seen within that relatively short time period, compared to the hundreds, if not
thousands, of years that you are talking about is that there is not any up and
down. ***It seems to hold at a steady rate or at least slightly increase.
If you look at the disease in confinement settings, which maybe is just a
compression of some of these actions over time, and this has been repeated
several places, several times over the last 20, 30 years, right now, in our
captive mule deer herd in our research facility in Fort Collins, we cannot keep
a deer alive for more than 5 years in that population. I would wager that if we
went in and tested those deer, that every single deer in the pens where we have
the disease perpetuating is infected with Chronic Wasting Disease.
***I think on a local basis, with small populations and the way deer
structure themselves, and elk, too, to some extent, it is actually a population
whose aggregates are kind of small family units that come together, but within
those small units, infection rates can be remarkably high. The folks in Nebraska
have been looking at infection rates of somewhere in the range of 50 percent, I
believe, Bruce. In the core of some of our endemic areas, we have had local
populations, as Director George mentioned, of 20, 30 percent.
CWD was first diagnosed as a clinical syndrome in captive elk in a Colorado
Division of Wildlife research facility in Fort Collins in 1967.
Let me be very clear about definitions. Captive elk or deer are cervids
that were captured from the wild and placed behind fences as in the Colorado DOW
research herd. Farmed or domestic elk are elk raised on farms, some of which
came from more than 10 generations of domestic herds.
Farmed elk, by definition established by the recently signed Farm Bill, is
considered livestock. This is an important distinction.
In late September 2001, the appearance of CWD in Colorado elk ranches was
the first real test of the national CWD program. Under the guidelines of the
national CWD Eradication and Control program, Federal and state agencies, as
well as affected elk ranchers, worked quickly to identify, depopulate, and test
all exposed elk.
The program worked successfully in quickly identifying, depopulating, and
testing all exposed elk. A total of 1,732 elk in Colorado were depopulated and
tested, and only 44 of these animals tested positive for CWD. Of the 44 positive
test results, all but two either appeared at or could be traced back to the
source herd. The other two positive cases were discovered on a ranch in
More than 200 animals were shipped to 15 states from affected Colorado elk
ranches. These animals were also quickly identified, depopulated, and tested for
CWD. Only one of 200 elk tested positive for the disease. The lone positive case
was in a Kansas herd of 16 elk: the remaining elk in the herd were tested and
Dr. Miller indicated that CWD is a disease of perception in terms of the
human health risk. I couldn't agree more. It is comforting that CWD has not yet
been documented to cause human illness and that the CWD prions have not been
found in venison. However, the specter of Mad Cow disease in Britain, and the
recommendation from the World Health Organization that no one eat meat from a
CWD positive animal, causes concern in a large portion of the public. We have
more than 700,000 deer hunters in Wisconsin. If just 15% of them request to have
their deer tested for CWD, it will add more than 100,000 deer to the equation.