“Zombie” Wildlife Disease Needs Urgent Federal Action

Have you heard of a wildlife disease that turns deer, elk, and even massive moose into wandering, listless, zombie-like versions of themselves? Well, it not only exists, but has been around for the few decades and is spreading – it’s called chronic wasting disease. This incurable, fatal wildlife threat has no cure. Symptoms include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness, drooling, teeth grinding and other neurological symptoms. The disease is caused by prions, the same agent that causes mad cow disease, though the origin of the disease remains unknown. To date, the disease has been confirmed in 25 states.

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The cost of inaction

As this disease spreads, it also threatens the outdoor economy. In 2016, wildlife enthusiasts spent $157 billion on activities like wildlife watching, hunting, and fishing. These outdoor hobbies totaled almost 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. In the United States, big game hunting (particularly for deer) is the most popular type of hunting and the revenue generated from this endeavor is one of the primary sources of conservation funding. Just last year, sportsman and women spent $14.9 billion on trips and equipment alone. The revenue generated off hunting licenses and equipment sales represents a significant investment in conservation efforts, but chronic wasting disease threatens the sustainability of this source of conservation funding. 

And there’s an additional cost: state agencies have been forced to shift funding away from critical conservation programs in order to fund efforts to stem the spread of chronic wasting disease. Deer, elk, and moose are susceptible to the disease, but the ramifications of its impact extend far beyond those species. Reallocation of funding now puts management of other wildlife at risk, including at-risk, endangered, or threatened species, as funding of state recovery programs is eaten up by efforts to combat the spread of the disease. 

With chronic wasting disease plaguing wildlife and siphoning off funding resources for conservation, swift action is needed. 

What can you do?

There is an immediate need for federal investment to control the spread of this deadly disease. We have already started to build momentum for solutions. Last month, National Wildlife Federation activists submitted over 15,000 comments calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take more proactive action in confronting this threat. Thankfully, some leaders in Congress have begun to push for more action. Senator Hyde-Smith (R-Mississippi) introduced an amendment to add chronic wasting disease as a high priority research and extension initiative to the 2018 Farm Bill, and companion bills that seek to control the spread of chronic wasting disease have been introduced by Representatives Kind (D-Wisconsin) and Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), and Senator Tester (D-Montana) in the House and Senate, respectively. We need more leaders to step up and co-sponsor these bills.  

Please join us in calling on members of the House and the Senate to co-sponsor the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act (HR 4454, S. 2252). This legislation will offer much needed support to states that are on the front line for confronting this threat. The state of Wisconsin alone has invested over $50 million, where the spread of the disease has already shown negative impacts on hunting, outdoor recreation, and real estate values.

Call on members in both chambers of Congress to support wildlife, recreation, and the outdoor economy by co-sponsoring bills to provide funding to state and tribal agencies to combat the spread of the terrible disease and research better methods to detect and respond to it. 

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