Chair McCollum Statement at Hearing on Chronic Wasting Disease

2019-10-17 09:33

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal, infectious disease in members of the deer family:

Today, the Interior-Environment Subcommittee is conducting an oversight hearing on chronic wasting disease, or CWD. We will be hearing from two panels of experts. The first panel will focus on research—what we know and what we have yet to learn. The second panel will focus on day to day management issues and impacts on hunting, food supply, and cultural activities. After each panel there will be an opportunity for members to ask questions.

I want to note that the Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge program plays a critical role in addressing this disease on refuge land. We had requested someone from the Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge program for our second panel to discuss how on a daily basis refuges address CWD. Specifically, we wanted to hear how refuges prepare for the occurrence of this disease, what management changes they are making to prevent transmission, and their collaboration with State and Federal land managers and other non-profit organizations. I am disappointed that the Department chose not to send anyone from the Fish and Wildlife Service to speak to the work they are doing on the ground. It is a missed opportunity that they are not here today.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal, infectious disease that causes neurological damage in deer, elk, and moose. There is no known cure for this disease, which has been detected in North America in free-ranging and captive herds in 26 States and three Canadian provinces. We know the number of CWD infected animals is growing and that this disease continues to spread and disrupt the balance needed to sustain healthy ecosystems. We also know it will take Interior land management agencies, such as the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management, working in collaboration with other partners to combat the spread of CWD. 

As a member of the Agriculture Subcommittee, I will continue to work on this issue in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Wildlife Services plays an important role in controlling this disease in farmed deer and elk, through regulations that include fencing and testing, to minimize the spread to wild populations. 

In my home state of Minnesota, we recently saw the disease leap more than 200 miles outside the previous infection zone. A deer farm owner refused to destroy their infected captive herd, and the disease spread to the local wildlife deer population. And once infected deer are discovered in captive or wild populations, there are major concerns about how to dispose of the carcasses to avoid further spread of the disease.

A team of experts from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota has recommended several immediate steps we should be taking, including: investing in greater CWD research, improving animal testing and management practices, and diligent public health monitoring for transmission to humans.

Today’s hearing provides a forum for us to learn about current research on this disease and its transmission, the challenges in developing detection tools, and how stakeholders are working together to address this disease and reduce infection rates. We will also learn about whether there is adequate collaboration with tribal nations.

CWD doesn’t just threaten our public health and the health of wildlife. It also puts a significant revenue stream at risk for local communities and an important source of funding for State wildlife management and conservation activities. According to the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife Associated Recreation, 9.2 million people enjoyed big game hunting and related hunting expenditures totaled $14.9 billion. I hope today’s discussion will enlighten the Committee on whether CWD is impacting this important revenue stream.

Before I introduce our first panel, I would like to ask for unanimous consent to include a statement in the record from Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a Minnesota legislator and lifelong deer hunter, who is working to stop the outbreak of CWD before it becomes widespread in Minnesota’s whitetail herd. 

Now I would like to welcome our first panel who will discuss current research on this disease:

  • William Werkheiser, Science Advisor to the Secretary of the Interior, and Chair of Interior’s Chronic Wasting Disease Working Group
  • Dr. Peter Larsen, Assistant Professor, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, University of Minnesota
  • Paul Johansen, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Wildlife Section Chief, Chair of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Fish and Wildlife Health Committee, and Chair of the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia

Thank you for joining us today. 

I would also like to mention that Dr. Tiffany Wolf from the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine is attending our hearing today. I want to express my appreciation to Dr. Wolf for her efforts to coordinate with Minnesota’s Tribal Nations on CWD.

116th Congress