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ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Round-table meeting cuts through disease haze

by Bryan Hendricks | July 5, 2020 at 2:54 a.m.

After its virtual round-table discussion on chronic wasting disease, nobody can accuse the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission of not being informed about CWD.

The meeting, held at the commission's headquarters in Little Rock, lasted eight hours. Panelists were James Kroll, Warren Bluntzer, Margaret Wild, Mike Samuel, Harry Jacobson and Nicholas Pinizzotto.

Kroll, known commercially as "Dr. Deer," is professor emeritus of Forest and Wildlife Management at Stephen F. Austin University and director of the Institute of Whitetail Management.

Bluntzer, a career game warden for the Texas Department of Wildlife and Parks, is the founder of Warren Bluntzer Wildlife Consulting Services.

Samuel is professor emeritus of forest and wildlife ecology at the University of Wisconsin. His research specializes in wildlife diseases with a focus on wildlife disease ecology, management, epidemiology, disease transmission and modeling, and wildlife population impacts.

Wild is a professor at the Washington State University college of veterinary medicine. She was formerly the chief veterinarian for the National Parks Service, biological resources division, at Fort Collins, Colo. She specializes in research and outreach on emerging infectious diseases of wildlife.

Jacobson is professor emeritus in the Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. His research specialties are big-game management, wildlife physiology, nutrition and disease. His biography says he is directly responsible for wildlife management on 500,000 acres of private land.

Pinizzotto is president and chief executive officer of the National Deer Alliance.

Jenn Ballard, the Game and Fish Commission's state wildlife veterinarian and assistant chief of the agency's research division, summarized Arkansas' experience with CWD, which was first discovered in 2016. Since then, the AGFC has tested samples from about 25,000 deer and elk. Positive cases have been detected in 13 counties in the Ozarks and Arkansas River Valley. The state's Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone comprises 21 counties.

To date, Ballard said, the Game and Fish Commission has spent $3.5 million on CWD-related activities with no outside funding. That translates to 140,000 Resident Sportsman Licenses, which cost $25. Over 31/2 years, that is 40,000 Resident Sportsman Licenses per year. For that money, the Game and Fish Commission has gotten nothing besides some data for an incurable, untreatable disease, and some accolades from the wildlife disease management community.

It is amusing in these kinds of settings to listen to highly accomplished professionals clash in what amounts to a very collegial UFC-style cage match.

"My science is better than your science."

"Hah, your methodology in 'The Influence of Prion Anomalies on Protein Absorption' was fatally flawed."

"En garde!"

"Take that, you fiend!"

This vigorous back-and-forth criticism and defense divulges a wealth of information about all facets of past and present attempts to manage chronic wasting disease. A terse Kroll cut to the bottom line when he said that states ignore the effect their responses to CWD have had on hunter participation. The public, he added, pays attention to semantics.

"It's almost like evolution. When you change from calling something a response plan to a management plan, a management plan spells out exactly what you intend to do, and you are able to define what it is. If it is a management plan, you have to be able to define that to the people of Arkansas."

Kroll talked extensively about Wisconsin's experience with CWD. He was part of a blue-ribbon panel that former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker appointed to oversee CWD after its initial failed effort to contain the disease. Samuel was involved in Wisconsin's initial response, and he bristled at Kroll's comments. The two engaged in a spirited repartee.

In 2004-05, hunters killed 27,032 deer in Wisconsin's disease eradication zones. Sharpshooters shot 1,382 deer and trapped 102 deer.

"The cost was $478 per deer, and $768 per deer in 2005," Kroll said.

With no successful CWD management model to pattern, other states have followed Wisconsin's expensive example.

"In spite of the expenditure of $100 million in public funding and thousands of animals killed, eradication efforts have not been successful, and eradication methods were ineffective in preventing increased prevalence or spread," Kroll said.

There was far more information than we can cover in one column, so we will discuss it in subsequent editions. Stay tuned.

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