Monitoring plan worries Iowa breeders
By Mike Wilson
DES MOINES -- Elk and deer breeders in Iowa want assurances that a plan to monitor captive herds for a debilitating brain disease won't affect their ability to sell animals in other states.
Members of the Iowa Whitetail Deer Association and the Iowa Elk Breeders Association met with state environmental and health officials recently to discuss a chronic wasting disease monitoring program that takes effect Oct. 15.
Rick Grooms, of Bloomfield, president of the Iowa Whitetail Deer Association, said the association supports the program as long as it doesn't inhibit breeders' ability to sell their animals.
"We have to have a way to market our animals and you need to realize that and help us in any way you can," he said.
Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease, similar to mad cow disease or scrapie in sheep, that causes deer and elk to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions and die.
The only U.S. Department of Agriculture-recognized test for CWD must be done after an animal has died. There is a live test that has shown signs of success in diagnosing the disease but it has not been federally approved.
Dale Garner, head of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources chronic wasting disease program, and Iowa State Veterinarian Dr. John Schiltz said that until the "tonsil test" receives USDA approval, it will not be used in Iowa.
Little is understood about the disease, including how it is transmitted or whether it can be transmitted to other species, including people. It's believed the disease has a lengthy incubation period with animals living up to 18 months after contracting the illness.
It has been found in herds in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Last year, Iowa established restrictions on the importing of animals from endemic areas in hopes of keeping the disease from spreading to Iowa.
So far, no cases of CWD have been found in the state under a targeted surveillance program in which a small number of deer killed on the state's roadways were tested last spring, Garner said.
He said more than 800 additional samples are expected to be collected this fall.
Officials said it's important to balance the need for caution without causing a public panic. A survey of hunters in Wisconsin show that more than 30 percent say they will not hunt this year because of CWD, Garner said.
A similar response in Iowa could have severe implications on the state's crops and on the state's roadways as a drop-off in hunting would cause an increase in deer population, he said.
He said people can continue to hunt and eat the meat from the animals they kill, but should use common sense. They should not eat deer that look sickly and they should not consume the brain, eyes, spinal cord, spleen or lymph nodes.
Scott Kent, of Teague Ranch near Decatur, said while the monitoring program for captive herds is necessary, it could mean a loss for those companies.
"If we go through this and take these risks and can't sell our animals out-of-state, we haven't accomplished anything," he said.
Teague Ranch has a breeding herd comprised of 200 Whitetail deer. There also is an uncontrolled herd within the 3,000-acre high-fence game preserve.
Kent also said Schiltz must be on board with the program for it to work.
"The only concern the people we call have is whether he signs off on it," Kent said. "I can't move deer until I get this man's approval."
Schiltz, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said he is working closely with the DNR to make sure the program is mutually acceptable.