White-Tail Importation Suspended

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In an action aimed at protecting the state's multi-billion dollar hunting and livestock industries against the threat of disease, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission voted during an emergency meeting here today to suspend the importation of white-tailed deer into Texas.

The action was taken in consideration of the recent emergence and spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in both captive and free-ranging deer populations in several other states. According to Jerry Cooke, TPW Game Mammal Branch Chief, Chronic Wasting Disease is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to Mad Cow Disease, except that CWD has only been found in elk and deer. He said the disease causes a degeneration of brain tissue in affected animals.

Cooke said that according to available research the disease does not pose a threat to livestock or humans. "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 euthenized 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 spread of infection."

The Texas Animal Health Commission, which is charged with controlling disease threats to domestic livestock, recently prohibited the importation of white-tailed deer, mule deer, black-tailed deer and elk into Texas from Colorado or Nebraska in response to the presence of free-ranging CWD in those herds. Free-ranging CWD also has been detected in populations in Wisconsin and Wyoming and is known to have occurred in captive herds in Montana, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. TPW's decision in effect extends the TAHC suspension to any source outside Texas. The action does not apply to deer that have already been imported into the state.

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 testing requirements.

Although the rules were helpful in reducing the risk of disease outbreak, they did not effectively address concerns about CWD - specifically the possibility that infected or exposed deer could unknowingly be imported into Texas and possibly infect wild deer or domestic stock.

Since the TPW Commission recently published a proposal to suspend importation of white-tailed and mule deer into Texas, 243 deer have been brought into the state - nearly half the total number of deer imported during all of last year - including 16 animals from Wisconsin, where CWD was confirmed in random testing of deer taken by hunters.

"The suspension of importation of deer at this time is a wise and responsible course of action," said TPW Executive Director Bob 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."