Deer Importation Suspended

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Recognizing that the threat of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is not likely to go away anytime soon, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted April 4 to close Texas borders to all importation of live white-tailed and mule deer until further notice. The suspension of importation applies only to live animals and will not prevent hunters from bringing legally harvested game into Texas.

The board's action solidifies a March 11 emergency suspension of deer importation in consideration of the recent emergence and spread of CWD in both captive and free-ranging deer populations in several states. The latest occurrence, on April 1 when a mule deer tested positive in Colorado, marked the first documented case of the disease west of the Continental Divide. Seven other states have also suspended importation in response to recent outbreaks in wild deer herds in Wisconsin.

According to Jerry Cooke, TPW Game Branch Chief, CWD is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to Mad Cow Disease, except that CWD has only been found in elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer and black-tailed deer. He said the disease causes a degeneration of brain tissue in affected animals.

Cooke said that according to available research, the effects of the disease on humans are unknown. "The biological and epidemiological nature of CWD is not well understood and has not been extensively studied, but it is known to be communicable, incurable and invariably fatal, he told commissioners. "At the current time, there is no live test for CWD; animals suspected of having the disease must be euthanized in order to obtain brain tissue for definitive diagnosis. Affected animals may take years before exhibiting symptoms of the disease, making it difficult to track and contain the spread of infection."

The Texas Animal Health Commission, which is charged with controlling disease threats to domestic livestock, recently suspended issuing import permits for elk.

TPW regulates the importation of white-tailed and mule deer under the provisions of Scientific Breeder Permit regulations. Prior to this action, deer could be brought into Texas with the proper permit as long as they were accompanied by a veterinarian's statement that the animals were free of evidence of contagious and communicable diseases and had adhered to any TAHC entry requirements.

"The suspension of importation of live deer at this time is a wise and responsible course of action," said TPW Executive Director Robert L. Cook. "This action is intended to minimize the risk of disease transmission that could cause incalculable harm to one of the state's most prized natural resources."

TPW staff withdrew its recommendation to establish criteria for the sale, barter or exchange of deer under a Scientific Breeder Permit pending efforts by permit holders to enter a TAHC approved voluntary monitoring program.