OHA Celebrates Funding Victory Against Chronic Wasting Disease

The Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) is celebrating a significant victory for Oregon’s wildlife following the approval of crucial funding to combat Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). This accomplishment is the result of a meticulous two-year effort led by Amy Patrick, OHA’s policy director, showcasing the organization’s steadfast commitment to protecting Oregon’s natural heritage.

As of March 2024, CWD has spread across the United States and parts of Canada, affecting free-ranging deer, elk, and moose in at least 32 states and four Canadian provinces. Additionally, cases of CWD have been reported in reindeer and moose populations in Norway, Finland, and Sweden, with isolated instances in South Korea involving imported cases. The disease has also been identified in farmed deer and elk populations.

“Securing additional funding to fight CWD was a two-year process,” says Amy Patrick. “This is a huge win for the sportsmen and women of Oregon, and most importantly, for our wildlife.”

“Oregon has been fortunate thus far to avoid positive CWD detections. However, given the proximity of cases in Idaho, it’s crucial that we take proactive measures to prevent its introduction into our state,” Patrick stated.

When CWD was detected near the Oregon border in Idaho, OHA and the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) intensified efforts to address the looming threat. Patrick emphasized the significance of the legislation to allow for increased sample collection and in-state testing, stating, “Oregon has been fortunate thus far to avoid positive CWD detections. However, given the proximity of cases in Idaho, it’s crucial that we take proactive measures to prevent its introduction into our state.”

Originating from captive deer in a Colorado research facility in the late 1960s, CWD was first detected in wild deer in 1981. By the 1990s, its presence had expanded to neighboring regions in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Since 2000, the geographical extent of CWD’s impact on free-ranging animals has broadened to encompass at least 32 states spanning all four regions of the continental United States. The disease’s spread may extend to additional states with less robust animal surveillance systems, where cases remain undetected. Once established in an area, CWD can persist in the environment for extended periods, contributing to the continued expansion of affected regions.

While the overall prevalence of CWD in free-ranging deer and elk nationwide remains relatively low, infection rates can exceed 10 percent in several established locations. Some areas have reported localized infection rates surpassing 25 percent, indicating significant transmission within affected populations. Notably, captive deer populations may experience even higher infection rates, with reports documenting rates as high as 79 percent in at least one captive herd.

The approved funding, totaling $1.9 million allocated to the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (OVDL) at Oregon State University and $795,000 designated for ODFW, marks a significant investment in enhancing Oregon’s capacity to monitor and combat CWD. “OHA will not be doing any of the testing,” Patrick clarifies. “We were the organization that authored the original CWD funding bill in 2023.” She further explains that the funds will support ODFW and the OVDL in their critical monitoring and testing initiatives.

Patrick encourages hunters to actively participate in the monitoring process by submitting samples at ODFW Check Stations and reporting any observations of sickly-looking deer or elk. “Hunters play a crucial role in wildlife conservation, and their contributions to monitoring efforts are invaluable,” she emphasizes.

“CWD is a 100% fatal prion disease that affects our ungulate populations,” Patrick states. “It is transmitted between animals through direct and indirect contact, making it particularly difficult to control.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal prion disease that impacts deer, elk, and other cervids, with reported cases in North America, including the United States. While no cases have been reported in humans, studies suggest potential risks, highlighting the importance of proactive measures to prevent its spread within Oregon’s wildlife populations. The disease, which may take over a year to manifest symptoms, poses significant challenges for wildlife management and public health.

Looking ahead, OHA remains committed to supporting ODFW’s efforts to monitor, test, and research CWD. “Our collaboration with ODFW is essential in developing effective strategies to combat CWD and safeguard Oregon’s wildlife,” says Patrick. “We will continue to advocate for continued funding, updated policies, and access to federal resources for monitoring and research purposes.”

In securing funding to bolster Oregon’s capacity to monitor and combat CWD, the OHA has achieved a significant milestone. With ongoing commitment and collaboration among stakeholders, including hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, and government agencies, Oregon stands poised to effectively confront the challenges posed by CWD and preserve its cherished wildlife heritage for generations to come.