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Rosendale fails Montana hunters on CWD

 

Last updated 12/21/2021 at 9:57am



As I write this, the quarters of a white-tailed buck deer I harvested over the Thanksgiving weekend hang in my garage. It’s not that I couldn’t find time in the last 10 days to get the cutting, grinding and packaging done. I won’t butcher it until I get back the testing results for Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD.

CWD is an always-fatal neurological condition that’s spreading rapidly in our country’s deer herds. It also affects elk and moose. Much of its workings are still a mystery to researchers. CWD is not caused by bacteria or a virus. Rather, it occurs in relation to mutated proteins (prions) that deform tissues, particularly in the brain. It’s closely related to Mad Cow Disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob’s disease in humans. It’s not known to infect humans, but health officials strongly recommend we don’t eat animals that test positive.

Montana hunters are aware that CWD is a serious threat to our big game herds, particularly mule and white-tailed deer. Deer are the mostly widely hunted and harvested species in the state. Sales of deer tags for resident and nonresident hunters provide a substantial amount of the funding for the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Deer hunters drop hundreds of thousands of dollars into rural communities and stores in places like Billings, Great Falls and Helena. Venison feeds many Montana families (like mine) through the winter.

As we’ve seen in other states, deer numbers are dropping as CWD becomes more prevalent. It’s no exaggeration to state that chronic wasting disease could cause the extinction of some local deer herds (especially mule deer) within a few decades. Investment in research and monitoring is key to combatting its effects. In a 2018 article in a national hunting magazine I wrote, “this is an area where government investment in the form of tax dollars or higher license fees earmarked for CWD research is critical for detection, research and management.”

That’s why hunters are baffled that Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale didn’t even show up to vote on a key bill that provides critical funding to control CWD. The Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act was sponsored by a Republican and a Democrat. It recently passed on an overwhelming 393-33 vote. Yet Rosendale, who represents a state in which big game hunting is a foundational element of the economy and culture, couldn’t bother to vote.

The bill provides $70 million in federal funding for states to manage and research CWD. This could mean quicker turn-around times for hunters on test results, and perhaps the development of rapid testing protocols where animals could be tested in the field, not a laboratory.

Rosendale often claims to be for Montana hunters and rural voters. How does that square with an “I can’t bother to vote” attitude toward something that literally threatens the survival of some of our most cherished big game species?

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Jack Ballard of Red Lodge is running on the Democratic ticket for Montana’s Second (eastern) Congressional District. He is a professional outdoors writer who has written hundreds of articles and several books on hunting, wildlife conservation and big game biology.

 

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