Many avid hunters are already planning for deer season, which begins Oct. 2 for bowhunters and Nov. 7 for general firearms season. Landowners who participate in special management programs within the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department can begin harvesting deer Oct. 2 with a firearm, as well.
However, as we get ready for this exciting time of the year, there is a growing threat that could impact our deer populations, ruin a cherished pastime and hurt our livelihood.
Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disease infecting numerous deer and certain exotic species, including mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is not known to infect humans, but it is fatal for deer. The disease cannot be prevented by vaccination nor is it treatable. Once established in an area, it cannot be eradicated and can cause significant impacts to deer populations and their composition.
With reports of chronic wasting disease in Texas steadily increasing, we must be vigilant. If it becomes more established in Texas, we will pay a tremendous price. Hunting brings $2.2 billion to the state’s economy and supports many ranchers, landowners and rural communities along the way.
Thankfully, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Texas Animal Health Commission are taking action to curtail the disease spread. Concerns led the agencies to enact emergency rules that will, among other things, require increased testing and identification of captive deer before they are transferred to a release site.
Steps like these will be vital to containing the spread of chronic wasting disease. Numerous organizations have applauded the move, including Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, where I serve as the chairman of the Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee.
Many of our members rely on income generated from white-tailed and mule deer hunting. Unfortunately, they can be left vulnerable when high-risk deer are released without current chronic wasting disease tests and into areas where they can co-mingle with other deer. Should an infected animal be released, the potential for disease spread to existing wildlife is very real. However, thanks to increased testing and identification requirements, we feel ranchers and landowners will be better protected from the spread of chronic wasting disease.
Collaboration between the state of Texas and private landowners will be essential to contain the disease. To do so, Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is honored to serve on the Chronic Wasting Disease Joint Task Force on behalf of cattle producers across the state.
It is also vital hunters be vigilant and report any animals showing symptoms of chronic wasting disease, like emaciation, lack of coordination or a loss of fear of people. Hunters in chronic wasting disease management zones must also take their animals to a check station within 48 hours of harvest, and those outside of specified zones may request voluntary testing.
Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is committed to preserving the hunting traditions so many of us know and love. We will fight to contain the terrible impact chronic wasting disease could have on our state, and I hope you will join us in that fight.
—James Oliver of Ozona, Texas, is a Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association director.