Legislative hearing will be held on CWD bill

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— Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, announced Wednesday that the Resources Committee would hold a legislative hearing next week on a bill to battle chronic wasting disease.

The bill would authorize $24 million to combat the spread of the disease found in some deer and elk.

McInnis' bill, "The Chronic Wasting Disease Support for States Act," would provide funding to state agencies that work to research, diagnose or control the spread of the disease. The bill would also direct the federal government to implement a "unified game plan" to support state decision makers in that mission.

CWD is contagious neurological disease affecting deer and elk. Similar to mad cow disease, it causes a degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and eventually death.

There is no evidence that CWD is a risk to human health. But the disease can lower and destabilize long-term deer and elk populations, according to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

Research and control efforts are expensive, drawing funds from other wildlife management needs.

Chronic wasting disease was thought to be contained to an area east of the Continental Divide until April 2002, when deer in the vicinity of a southwest Routt County ranch tested positive for the disease.

Bringing federal agencies together for the unified game plan is the main goal of the bill, said Blair Jones, press secretary for McInnis.

"The bipartisan legislation would make the federal government a more efficient, effective and comprehensive supporter of the states in their fight to contain and eradicate this scourge," McInnis said in a prepared statement. "My intent is to keep pushing this legislation through the process to make sure that federal reinforcements are on the way."

Though pooling federal and state resources will greatly help in the overall fight against CWD, giving money to state-level authorities, such as the Division of Wildlife, will help local agencies with their particular needs in the fight, Blair said.

"Our belief is the states have the best ability to lead the charge working against the disease, through testing and research," Blair said. "We don't need experts in Washington telling experts in Colorado what to do. The states know what needs to be done."

McInnis has worked in the fight against CWD before. In April, McInnis secured $14.9 million in federal appropriations for CWD research and control. Currently, $4 million of that is available to state organizations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The $24 million would be dispersed as follows:

n $1 million for new federal research monies.

n $15 million to state wildlife and agriculture agencies for the purpose of monitoring, surveying, and managing infected herds.

n $2.5 million to upgrade and create new diagnostic labs.

n $1.5 million to create a national CWD survey and database.

n $4 million for state, local and private CWD-related educational activities.

The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. June 19 at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington D.C.

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