Meeting the Next Challenge: Chronic Wasting Disease

• Once again, it’s time for Missourians to stand up for wild resources
• White-tail Deer Herd in Trouble
• Missouri Constitution Change Required, Needs Voter Help

By Jim Low

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The growing menace posed by chronic wasting disease (CWD), if left unchecked, will ultimately destroy Missouri’s wild deer resource.  If you have any doubt about this, read up on either of these two links:

Unlike blue tongue and other familiar deer diseases, CWD’s spread is inexorable.  CWD is 100 percent fatal.  There is no cure or vaccine.  It is slow, but after it is well-established, it is only a matter of time until deer numbers decline drastically.

The only hope of preventing this awful scenario is quick action to limit the spread of CWD.  So far, all of Missouri’s CWD outbreaks have occurred near captive-deer operations where deer are shipped in and out – a practice made to order for spreading CWD.  The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has done its best to regulate such facilities to prevent the spread of the disease, but its efforts have been stopped cold.  Political pressure has eroded MDC’s regulatory authority over deer, which it now shares with the Mo. Dept. of Agriculture.  Agriculture officials are not governed by an independent citizen commission, and they are not obligated to protect wildlife.  And the Missouri Legislature holds the Agriculture Department’s purse strings, so state agriculture officials are inclined to do what legislators want.

A bit about history.  In 1935, Missourians realized that politicians couldn’t or wouldn’t protect the state’s wildlife.  To fix the problem, they amended the state’s constitution, giving authority for managing the state’s wild resources to a non-partisan, citizen commission that we know today as the Missouri Conservation Commission.  It was the first time in history that a state or nation had replaced politics with science as the basis for resource management.  Over the following 80 years, however, we have grown complacent, forgetting another famous adage: The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

Political influence is like water.  Eventually, it finds its way into everything.

Eight decades after the creation of the MDC, politics once again has seeped into the water-tight system Missouri’s conservation pioneers tried to create.  If it isn’t stopped, the results will be catastrophic.  That is why, at its annual meeting last weekend, the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) passed a resolution that could mark another watershed in conservation history.

The resolution came out of the Conservation Federation of Missouri (CFM) Deer, Turkey and Furbearer Committee.  It puts CFM – representing more than 80 affiliated groups and more than 100,000 individual members – on record in support of a new effort to amend the Missouri State Constitution.  The goal this time is to stop political incursions that threaten the future of Missouri’s white-tail deer herd.

The resolution and the initiative petition drive it supports have deep historical resonance.  CFM was the organization that spearheaded the 1936 initiative petition drive that established the Conservation Commission.  Forty years later, CFM lead another initiative petition drive to provide stable, permanent funding for conservation.  And now, another 40 years down the road, Missourians again are rising up to tell politicians to keep their hands off our precious wild resources.  There seems to be a 40-year cycle for conservation action in the Show-Me State.

What authority MDC has left was cancelled out last year by a court order in a lawsuit brought by captive-deer breeders who don’t like MDC regulations. 

Meanwhile the Missouri Legislature currently is busy with legislation that would take regulation of captive deer and elk operations out of MDC’s hands entirely.  The result would be shipping deer willy-nilly around the state with the predictable consequence of accelerating the spread of CWD.

MDC might prevail in the lawsuit, but even if it does, effective action to stem the tide of CWD could come too late.  And even if the lawsuit was resolved in MDC’s favor tomorrow, the Missouri Legislature undoubtedly will continue chipping away at MDC’s ability to respond.  And there’s no guarantee that the captive-deer industry won’t continue to stymie regulatory efforts with lawsuit after lawsuit.

As in 1936, the only sure-cure solution to save the Missouri white-tail deer herd for future generations is to express the will of the people in the Missouri Constitution.

That’s what the initiative petition drive that just won the support of the CFM aims to do.  If the petition garners enough signatures, Missourians will get to vote on the issue in 2018.

Two different approaches are being weighed:

  • One would be to stop the spread of CWD by prohibiting the transportation of captive deer between breeding facilities and shooting pens.
  • The other would achieve the same end by making it illegal to charge clients to shoot deer inside high-fence enclosures. Such “canned hunts” are repulsive to ethical hunters, who believe that real hunting involves fair chase.

If the effort to revise the Missouri Constitution is to succeed, it must have citizen support.  Later this year, volunteers will be needed to gather signatures on petitions, but what is needed most now is financial support to get the word out.  If you are willing to help, visit fairchasemissouri.com and click on the “donate” link.  You also can follow the effort on Facebook.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.  Today, bringing what we have learned (knowledge) to create a chance for white-tail deer herd survival will require our courage and effort.  Let’s not repeat the history of the early 20th century, when white-tailed deer nearly went extinct.

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