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CWD Part Three

An Allied Front 

Matt Dunfee – Program Manager, Wildlife Management Institute
Until the late 1990s, most hunters, and even wildlife biologists, had very little awareness of what Chronic Wasting Disease was, and nobody was prepared for the impact it would have on hunting and cervid management in the coming decade. But, by 2003, when the disease had been confirmed in eight states and two Canadian provinces, CWD had emerged as an undeniable threat to North America’s deer and elk populations. Adding to the growing concern about CWD and its impact to wildlife was the fear that the disease might pose a risk to humans. Media outlets, public health agencies, and sportsmen and sportswomen began asking more questions, but were left only to speculate due to an absence of reliable information and scientifically verified fact.

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As CWD was discovered in new areas at an alarming rate during the early 2000s, wildlife management agencies began scrambling to develop techniques to stop or control the disease’s spread. At the same time, they were being forced to balance the complex, and often competing or conflicting interests of the general public, hunters, captive cervid industry, traditional livestock industries, and numerous state and federal animal and public health agencies.

It was in this environment that the CWD Alliance was created.

As questions, concerns, and fears about CWD and its impacts on wildlife populations and hunting grew, it became clear that strong leadership was needed to ensure that hunters  and conservationists had access to timely and accurate information about the disease, as well as a voice in the political debate.  In late 2001, three Boone and Crockett Club members provided start-up funds to allow the Club to develop a CWD initiative. Dr. Gary Wolfe, a Professional Member of the Club, was contracted to develop and coordinate the Club’s CWD plan. Soon after, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Mule Deer Foundation joined forces with the Club to help fund this important collaborative project. This partnership became known as the CWD Alliance in January of 2002, and the partners agreed to pool resources, share information, and cooperate on projects and activities to positively impact the CWD issue. Since then, over 20 other conservation organizations, sportsmen groups, and industry partners have joined the Alliance.

The early members and partners of the CWD Alliance all recognized that reliable, un-biased public information and education about CWD should be the focus of the Alliance’s work. Then, like today, CWD was emotionally and politically charged and inaccurate reporting and sensationalism undermined progress in managing the disease. Thus, the mission of the Alliance was crafted: “To promote responsible and accurate communications regarding CWD, and to support strategies that effectively control CWD to minimize its impact on wild, free ranging cervids.”

That mission remains as critical today as it did in 2002. With CWD now found in 24 states and four countries, the concern about the disease’s impact to cervid populations has not diminished. Scientific, reliable, and timely information remains at a premium. The flagship project of the Alliance, the website cwd-info.org, continues to be the premier information clearing-house for CWD news, updates, and current regulations, ensuring that anyone needing to understand more about CWD has a place to obtain the truth. Over 45 state fish and wildlife agencies link to the site, and it has become a trusted vehicle to disseminate up-to-date information about CWD from a variety of agency partners.

In addition to cwd-info.org, the Alliance remains active on numerous other fronts. Over the last decade that Alliance has:

  • Provided written and in-person congressional testimony on CWD funding and management issues,
  • Helped coordinate and sponsor national CWD symposia,
  • Maintained continual media outreach, providing over 120 media interviews,
  • Served on dozens of national CWD and wildlife health working groups and committees,
  • Produced information brochures and videos on CWD,
  • Coordinated CWD information campaigns and resources for other conservation organizations,
  • Compiled databases of CWD-related research articles.

This is the second of two Fair Chase articles on chronic wasting disease (CWD).  The articles are excerpted (and updated) from the complete paper to be published in the “Transactions of the 81st Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference” (Transactions).  It was presented in the special session titled “Science-based Management Strategies for Fish and Wildlife Diseases” in March 2016.  The complete “Transactions” will be available through the website of the Wildlife Management Institute (wildlifemanagementinstitute.org).

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt