Chronic Wasting Disease Outbreak and Response
In late March of 2021, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was detected at a new captive deer breeding facility in Uvalde County. The initial trace-out assessment identified 267 different locations where over 1,700 individual animals were transported to across the entire state. Since that detection, 5 more breeding facilities have discovered CWD. The captive deer breeding network in Texas is very mobile and highly interconnected. That fact, coupled with the scale of this outbreak and developing investigation called for an Emergency Executive Order to put rules in place expeditiously in an attempt to prevent further spread of the disease.
The Executive Order addresses many components of disease surveillance, including deficiencies in the existing rule package highlighted in this outbreak. One addition to the rules has drawn more focus than others. Ante-mortem (“live animal”) tests must be performed for all breeder deer before being released to a pasture, where they are potentially irretrievable. Texas is the only state that officially recognizes these tests, which is a progressive technology and useful in allowing business continuity while mitigating risk. Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at Texas A&M University is confident in their ability to handle the anticipated volume based on historic release trends. The unknown extent of the disease in the breeder network and the presence of it in two “CWD-Certified” facilities make this a wise precaution.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) have already begun engaging stakeholders and advisory committees to work on permanent rules to replace the Executive Order. The permanent rules will go through the standard Open Meetings process and should be eligible for consideration and adoption by year-end.
A common topic of discussion is a perceived disparity between disease surveillance in the captive deer breeder network and deer outside of that network (commonly referred to as “wild”, “low-fence” or “free-range” deer). TPWD sets statistically-relevant sample goals across the entire state, which have been met each year since establishment in 2016. Last year those samples totaled 12,925. In the same time frame, 4,721 samples were collected from breeder deer. Nonetheless, the new permanent rules are anticipated to include additional surveillance strategies and enhanced risk management for all deer across the entire state.
CWD represents an existential threat to rural economies, hunting related businesses (including deer breeders), and an important natural resource. TPWD and TAHC are charged with protecting all of these and are working as quickly and thoroughly as possible to do so in a transparent and equitable way.