Senate bill would fund Chronic Wasting Disease research

by MTPR, Maxine Speier

Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation today to help in the fight against chronic wasting disease. The introduction of Tester’s bill follows the discovery of the first cases of the disease in Montana’s wildlife.

“We’re seeing it crop up in Montana with regularity and that’s very concerning because it can be very devastating to wildlife,” Tester said.

The bill would amend the federal Animal Health Protection Act. It would allocate $60 million federal dollars to state and tribal wildlife agencies for both research and management of the deadly disease.

“We need to have the research and development and we need to give local folks the tools that they need to be able to manage this,” said Tester.

State and tribal agencies nationwide, including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, would be able to apply for the federal funding.

Montana kicked off its first ever special hunt for the disease last weekend. Nick Gevock, the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, says Tester’s bill would help provide funding for future CWD-related hunts.

“Anytime we have a special hunt like this, that requires staff time, that requires game checks, that requires testing. The agency needs the funding just to staff any special management activities,” Gevock said.

In some infected mule deer herds in Wyoming, CWD has led to a roughly 20 percent annual decline in population numbers. That’s a trend wildlife managers are worried about seeing in Montana.

Senator Tester said the fatal disease could have an especially large impact on hunting in Montana.

“Hunting is kind of a way of life in Montana for a good portion of our population,” Tester says. “And this disease, I mean, I don’t want to overstate it because I think we need more research, but it looks to me like it could really devastate hunting opportunities in the state. So we’ve got to figure out a way to manage it so that the disease doesn’t continue to spread.”

Montana’s hunting and conservation groups are praising the bill, saying it will give wildlife agencies sorely needed funding.

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide on Thursday whether to hold a second CWD hunt in another area in the state where the disease was discovered.

For the possible Sage Creek Special CWD Hunt, FWP is proposing to sell 335 deer B licenses in an effort to harvest 135 mule deer. Licenses would go on sale December 26. The hunt would begin January 6 and last through February 15 or until the harvest goal number is reached.

The Sage Creek Special CWD Hunt area is about 226 square miles in size near Chester in Liberty County.