COLUMBIA — To combat chronic wasting disease in Missouri's deer herd, the Missouri Conservation Commission unanimously approved proposed amendments to the rules for wildlife breeding facilities and big-game hunting preserves.
More than 100 people attended a public hearing before the conservation commission on Friday, and about 10 of them spoke. No one spoke against the proposed changes.
"CWD is like a slow-growing cancer, and if you don't notice it at first, by the time you do, it can be too late to do anything about it," said Tony Kalna of Missouri Deer Hunter Magazine.
Although the rules have been approved, the commission decided to allow another public comment period from July 16 to Aug. 14 so people can continue commenting on the changes. The commission will consider those comments before putting the new rules into effect.
Chronic wasting disease infects only members of the cervid family, which includes whitetail deer, mule deer and elk. It is always fatal and is often spread to wild deer from those in captive conditions.
The disease was first detected in Missouri in 2010 and 2011 on captive deer on private big-game hunting preserves in Linn and Macon counties. Since 2010, 11 cases of the disease have been found in captive deer. Since 2011, 10 cases have been detected in free-range deer.
In Missouri, there are 221 breeders and 39 big-game hunting preserves that are permitted to have whitetail deer. Deer-related and deer-dependent businesses — including those related to hunting — account for 12,000 Missouri jobs and more than $1 billion in economic activity, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation website.
Here's a rundown of what the new rules entail.
- New facilities will be required to install double fencing. Exterior fences will have to be at least 10 feet tall, and interior fences at least 8 feet tall. Existing operations will be grandfathered, but they will probably face new standards in the future. The confinement of whitetail deer, whitetail deer hybrids, mule deer or mule deer hybrids in mobile exhibits and auction facilities will be prohibited.
- Importing deer or elk from other states will be prohibited.
- All deer and deer hybrids that die after 6 months of age will have to be tested for chronic wasting disease.
- Applicants for new Class 1 wildlife breeder permits will have to pass a written test and have their sites inspected. Class 2 breeders already have to pass those exams and are subject to inspections if they breed deer. Class 1 and Class 2 breeders differ in the types of animals they're allowed to work with.
- No new wildlife breeding facilities or big-game hunting preserves can be built within 25 miles of any location where chronic wasting disease has been found.
- Breeders will have to perform annual herd inventories and have veterinarians sign off on herd records and the results of chronic wasting disease testing.
- Breeders and those who operate big-game hunting preserves will have to enroll source herds for cervids in a certification program approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The proposed changes came after extensive public comments and input. The conservation department held nine public meetings in the area where the disease was detected and held eight public meetings statewide to gather as many ideas as they could to tackle the problem.
"We've tried to find a balance between different perspectives," said Mike Hubbard, a resource science division chief.
Chris Kossmeyer, who owns a family farm in Chariton County, spoke at the Friday meeting and emphasized that prevention, not containment, is the answer.
"It is important to protect (deer), not just for us but for future generations," commission Chairman Don Bedell said. "The commission has an obligation to protect Missouri's forests, fish and wildlife."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.