Other Voices

Help fight this fatal disease threat to Texas wild deer herd

A deer forages at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge.
A deer forages at the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge. Star-Telegram

The June 2015 discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease in a Medina County captive deer breeding facility represents arguably the most serious threat our Texas white-tailed deer populations have experienced since they were on the brink of extinction in the early 20th century.

It is ironic that captive deer breeding may well be the cure that destroys the populations it was originally meant to help rescue.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, recognizing the severity and potential impact of this disease, responded swiftly and responsibly to halt the movement of breeder deer immediately upon CWD detection, until sufficient testing had been done on the population and a prudent plan was put in place for dealing with the disease.

Similarly, TPWD recognized the broad effect of its decisions, so the department held a series of professionally mediated stakeholder forums in an attempt to build consensus around the state’s response to the disease.

These forums included all major stakeholders, including all major deer breeding trade associations.

In an exhaustive and transparent process, all parties demonstrated willingness to compromise on issues of greatest importance to white-tailed deer and to wildlife in general. The result was to be a report with recommendations for new guidelines to protect Texas deer herds from CWD.

Unfortunately, a small group of deer breeders who participated in these forums chose not to honor their commitment to consensus and instead embarked on an effort to undermine the TPWD and the efforts of the other stakeholders.

Instead of recognizing the clear and present danger CWD poses to our wild deer herds, this small but vocal group chose instead to use lawsuits and other obstructions to impede the TPWD efforts to prevent this disease from spreading to the wild whitetail deer population.

Conservationists, hunters, professional wildlife biologists, outdoor recreationists and the broader agriculture community, including a growing number of deer breeders, have consistently expressed their support for the TPWD in response to this fatal, highly contagious disease.

We are all willing to share responsibility to help control CWD.

TPWD is doing its part, too, acting in a measured, pragmatic and responsible way, fulfilling its guiding philosophy to serve the people of Texas with fairness and respect, relying on the best available science to guide conservation decisions.

The deer breeding industry has a real problem in CWD. While the rest of Texas can appreciate the burden of accountability the industry now bears, that does not mean that their problem should become everyone else’s.

I also understand the financial threat posed to breeders whose deer are infected with CWD.

But the fairest way to deal with this threat is not to expose the rest of the state’s deer herd to this fatal disease. It is to take all necessary steps to control and limit the spread before it is too late.

I commend the TPWD staff and commission for their efforts, and I encourage all Texans who value our wildlife resources, hunting and rural economies to express support to the TPWD commission before Monday, June 20.

The ability of future generations to enjoy wildlife in its native habitat depends on all concerned Texans making their voices heard. Please support our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in its efforts to protect our natural resources.

Joseph Fitzsimons is a rancher, lawyer and conservationist who is a director of the Texas Wildlife Association and former chairman of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission.

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