Permanent Deer and Elk Import Ban Sought

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The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is seeking to make permanent its current emergency ban on the import of deer and elk to help protect the state's native and captive cervids from spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The Game and Fish Commission has begun the formal rule process to make its temporary "emergency ban" permanent on the importation of cervids (elk and deer family).

"This is an animal health issue, not one dealing with human health risks," emphasized Research Branch Chief Jim deVos. "Both the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said that there is no scientific evidence that links CWD with human health risks."

DeVos added that much of the information on this disease comes from the endemic area of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming where it appears that, on average, CWD probably infects about five to 15 percent of the deer.

In addition to cases involving captive research and free-ranging deer and elk, CWD has been diagnosed in privately owned elk on game farms in several states beginning in 1996. "At this time, the detection of CWD in new areas is expanding rapidly. There have been detections of CWD in free-ranging deer in additional areas of Nebraska, Alberta, Wisconsin, New Mexico and South Dakota during 2002."

"Infection has been particularly severe in a group of interconnected facilities near Rapid City, South Dakota, that appear to be the original source of infection for other South Dakota game farms, as well as the Sakatchewan epidemic. In contrast, infected elk on two of three Nebraska farms originated in Colorado. Infected elk in Oklahoma apparently originated in Montana," deVos said.

In addition to the problems associated with this disease in wild populations, there is also a significant economic impact with the detection of the disease in both free-ranging and captive herds. "As an example, Sakatchewan has spent approximately $30 million in attempts at eradicating the disease in infected game farms. In Wisconsin, it is costing millions of dollars for additional detection of the disease and for information dissemination," deVos said.

Further, managing this disease in Wisconsin calls for removing approximately 15,000 white-tailed deer to reduce densities in the area where this disease was detected. If CWD were to become established in Arizona, Game and Fish officials would expect to see a decrease in the demand for deer and elk permits.

"There could also be a significant loss to local, mostly rural, economies if fewer hunters were afield. In addition to the loss of revenues, Game and Fish would also be faced with expending hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased surveillance and other management issues associated with this disease. This is not a budgeted item and would result in the loss of many existing programs the department maintains," deVos explained.

Game and Fish has already mounted some surveillance activity beginning in 1998 and continuing this hunting season to spot check harvested animals. This is done by collecting spinal and brain tissue from harvested animals and submitting samples for laboratory testing.

Department biologists added that the importation ban only applies to "live" animals, not animals legally harvested in other states. "Yes, if you harvest an elk or deer in some place such as Colorado, you can bring the meat home with you, but make sure to check the regulations in areas where you hunt. Some states are requiring hunters to submit heads for testing. Many states recommend removing the head and spinal column from the deer before removing it from the area where it is harvested," deVos said.