The new Governor is taking steps toward dealing with Chronic Wasting Disease – unfortunately those steps are in the opposite direction from the wildlife department.
CWD has been well known for several decades. Some states have spent considerable time, effort and finances to attempt to control outbreaks.
Oklahoma has fared well throughout this time, with no confirmed cases in our wild deer and elk herds. The disease, however, has been discovered inside high fence farms.
State management of CWD has been at a crossroads, and the signing of SB 551 is a blow to the wildlife department’s ability to manage and care for our state’s deer herd. This is not what I envisioned when I was told that, “Oklahoma’s turn around starts right here, right now.”
The distinction has been made. Deer in the woods are a shared resource, and deer in a pen are livestock. Both will be handled by different agencies even though both share the potential for disease outbreak.
SB 551 removes authority from the wildlife department to deny the import of cervidae from states and provinces that have had confirmed cases of CWD. The wording change states that it will be unlawful to import cervidae from those areas, except the state veterinarian may allow the import from Canadian provinces with CWD “...after notification to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.” It used to say, “…upon approval,” from the ODWC.
The state agency that manages our state’s deer herd no longer has authority to approve or disapprove the importation of cervids from known CWD hot-spots.
As somebody who cares deeply about our state’s deer herd, it makes me concerned. It’s an unfortunate removal of checks and balances, and the opening of a pathway to bring CWD to Oklahoma.
A House Joint Resolution also failed to carry ODWC rules to the Governor’s desk. HJR 1022, recently signed by Gov. Stitt, disapproved ODWC rules that sought to prevent and limit the spread of CWD in Oklahoma.
The wildlife department’s legislative tracker states, “...disapproval of these rules would leave a huge gap in our ability to protect Oklahoma’s deer and elk herds, thus putting to risk a hunting tradition that yields millions of dollars for Oklahoma’s economy.” Disapproval was granted in both the house and senate prior to the Governors consideration.
This quote from the wildlife department’s legislative trackers sums up for me their side of the debate. “Unlike some states around us that have been much more aggressive in dealing with CWD, we have proposed a much more measured approach. We are actively working with our deer and elk hunters and industry to place reasonable controls to foster continued hunting without ignoring the fact that this disease is just a few miles across our border in wild deer herds.”
It seems to me that we missed a chance to be progressive when dealing with CWD. Instead Gov. Stitt chose to remove control from the state agency that is charged with protecting a shared resource. We’ll see how things go.
Jon Kocan is the Stillwater News Press outdoors writer and a longtime hunter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.