Originally published in the Dec 2015 edition of Outdoor Guide Magazine

A Response to Nugent

By STEVE JONES

[in response to "CWD is a Scam", by Ted Nugent]

It was bound to happen eventually. I found something to disagree with Ted Nugent about. We have communicated about the disagreement, and my respect for him is unshaken. But he can’t be right about everything.

Ted’s article “CWD Is a Scam” is full of his signature energy and passion but boils down to a stylized riff on standard talking points from the confined deer industry.

CWD is no scam. It’s not a political disease. It’s not fiction. It is a very real and serious threat to the future of wild deer in North America.

I imagine hunters 50 or 100 years from now pointing back at us through time and saying “You knew what was happening but you did nothing when there was still time to act.”

It makes me sick. CWD is now in Missouri, Illinois, Ted’s native home of Michigan and has now reached his adopted home of Texas. The club just keeps getting bigger, with 23 states and two Canadian provinces so far.

CWD hit Missouri in 2010. After eight years of extensive testing in all counties found nothing, 11 deer from a high-fence shooting preserve tested positive. Later, 10 wild free-ranging deer tested positive, all within two miles of that facility. Now it’s spreading further.

Coincidences don’t come that big. Nor is Missouri unusual.

Many of the huge geographic leaps CWD has made clearly originate inside or very near a high-fence outfit that trucked in live deer.  With no effective live test for CWD, herd certifications are a dangerous joke. It is impossible, even with the best of intentions, to guarantee no infected deer are being shipped.

TWAIN KNOWS

Mark Twain said, “Tell me whar a man gits his corn pone en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.” Unless you get your corn pone straight from the confined deer industry, the conclusion is obvious.

That Iowa facility Ted mentioned? Saying there was no compensation?

Not true, though maybe it should have been. Taxpayers paid them $917,100. And that only after the owners used every possible legal delaying tactic, seeking permission to sell their infected deer to hunting pens. By the time officials could finally put the herd down, it had an 80 percent infection rate.

Why should taxpayers compensate high-fence deer operations for the results of their clearly risky business?

And the Wind River elk herd?  The bizarre decision to let a known infected herd outside of their fenced area was made by truly ignorant National Park Service officials. From what I hear, over the objections of their own wildlife specialists.

Certainly Ted does not expect us to consider the NPS as a rational source of wildlife policy. Also, the Wind River fences were poor, with elk movement in and out already taking place. The nearby free-ranging population was already known to have CWD. It isn’t like they opened up a good fence to let a confined infected elk herd out into a wild CWD-free herd.

It was a boneheaded move, but to suggest it turns all wildlife officials battling CWD into hypocrites is absurd.

So is CWD a scam? The product of a massive conspiracy of conservation organizations, wildlife agencies, and research scientists – state, federal, provincial and academic?  All marching in lockstep, telling lies to the public?

It is irrational to credit government with that level of organization, even if you came up with a credible motivation.

If there is a scam, it comes from  the industry.  They have hired top-shelf lobbyists and PR firms to avoid the regulations needed to protect the health of wild deer and elk.

And if you have a half an hour to waste, by all means watch that Keith Warren video. A more bald-faced industry puff piece you will never see. Visit NoMoCWD.org to get a clearer picture of the real truth.

Public policy on CWD should be based in science. There are inevitable conflicts in which policy makers must weigh the economic interests of the fenced deer industry against the public interest in healthy wild deer. Are you confused which is the higher priority? I’m not.

Sure, like many deer hunters, I don’t like some of what goes on inside those fences. But clearly there are people who are willing to pay for that sort of thing.  If the high fence folks could conduct their business without posing a threat to wildlife, then it’s none of my business and they’ll hear nothing more from me.  But the problem isn't really the fence, it's the commercial trade in live cervids.  CWD follows their stock trucks around the continent.

ALWAYS FATAL

CWD is always fatal, and there is no immunity. Once it arrives, it always spreads.

And never forget, CWD is the only prion disease known to spread among wild, free-ranging animals anywhere in the world.

Ever.

CWD is nothing like EHD, which can hit like wildfire and seriously damage a herd in the blink of an eye. But CWD is a slow, relentless smoldering burn. Herds can recover quickly from EHD. They can’t recover from CWD.

When a doe becomes infected with CWD, she will likely have just one more breeding season to raise fawns to weaning age, and those fawns likely start life infected. Those doe fawns are unlikely to wean a viable fawn of their own before they die. Time passes. As the disease grows in the herd, more does live fewer breeding seasons. Eventually the herd can’t breed enough to keep up with the losses, and the herd decline starts. There is nothing to stop it. Even if future hunters are interested in hunting infected deer, eventually there just won't be enough to support hunting.  

That is already happening now in one deer management unit in Wyoming, which has been infected for decades and has over a 50 percent infection rate (and still rising) among wild mule deer.

It is almost certainly heading that way in Wisconsin, where in the core area of infection the rate has reached 40 percent of adult bucks, and 22 percent of adult does.

Researcher disease modeling of CWD is still evolving, and the predictions range from bad to horrific.  But they all predict inevitable decline.  None predict deer ever returning to pre-CWD numbers.

This is a slow moving conservation emergency of epic proportions.  As Nero fiddled while Rome burned, so would those invested in fenced deer have public policy makers fiddle while the future prospects of wild deer slowly turn to ashes.  

The only rational public policy is to do everything possible to prevent new CWD outbreaks, and to agressively manage new outbreaks while they are still small.  Once a CWD outbreak becomes firmly established and impacts more than a tiny percentage of the herd, any ability to manage it vanishes.  Future generations will pay the long term price for those who put short term commecial interests ahead of wildlife right now.

I’ll finish by quoting Ted’s closing statement, with which I wholeheartedly agree:

“Stand up and fight for what you believe in, my friends. It really is us against them. Do it for our beloved deer and lifestyle.”

Steve Jones is the Conservation Editor for Oudoor Guide Magazine (ogmag.com).  You can reach him at:  ogmagdotcom.gif

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NoMoCWD.org/docs/nugentcwd.php