WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amid growing concern about the continuing spread of Chronic Wasting Disease and its prevalence across the United States, Congress is considering a federal CWD Task Force. You can count West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt among those who supports the idea.

Kent Leonhardt

“Normally I’m a small state guy and advocate for states’ rights and things of that nature, but when you have a disease that is obviously spreading to other states, it’s time for the federal government to step in and take a lead on coordinating those efforts,” Leonhardt said during testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works Wednesday..

Chronic Wasting Disease is an illness which manifests in prions of the brain and spinal cord in deer, elk, and other cervid species. It was first detected in West Virginia in a road killed deer in Hampshire County in 2005. Since that time, it has been detected in five counties of the eastern panhandle. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources maintains surveillance and monitoring of deer in the wild in West Virginia, Leonhardt’s Department of Agriculture is responsible for monitoring captive cervids on deer farms in West Virginia.

So far, no positive tests have been found for CWD on captive deer in West Virginia, but the disease has been prominent in captive herds in other states. It often creates conflicts among agencies debating policy positions and can often be influenced by emotion. Something Leonhardt told Senators needs to be removed from the process.

“It’s clear from the current state of research we don’t have certainty in the science of CWD to make sound judgements that may affect many farmers and hunting related businesses. While Department of Ag and DNR work closely on many projects, we sometimes disagree on legislation and rules because of the uncertainty of CWD data,” he said.

Part of that uncertainty stems from a lack of an ability to do a live test on the animals.  The only way CWD can be detected is after the animal is

Ed DeWitt/The Hampshire Review

DNR has closely monitored wild deer for CWD in the Eastern Panhandle region since the first discovery in 2005.

dead.  The physical appearance of the animal is not impacted until the final stages of the illness.   Development of a live test is one of the things Leonhardt and others hope can be achieved with research led by the feds.

Also testifying in Wednesday’s hearing was Brian Nesvik, Director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Whit Fosburgh,President and Chief Executive Officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Fosburgh and Nesvik agreed with Leonhardt the federal task force was an important step to try and make headway on the growing disease, the fear it is creating, and the threat it poses to the future of hunting and agriculture alike.

“Sometimes information gets out there and if you don’t have a place to go to and actually get the fact, states will act on emotion and we could actually hurt our sporting and agricultural activities if we’re going off emotion and not off actual sound science,” said Leonhardt.

Among the Senators on the committee was U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito from West Virginia.