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Illegal breeding facility deer test free of disease

From the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

-- Chronic Wasting Disease and Bovine Tuberculosis were not detected in more than 300 deer held illegally on an East Texas deer breeding facility, according to recent findings at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory.

The test results mean the deadly wildlife diseases have not been discovered in Texas deer, and enable several deer breeding facilities whose stock had co-mingled with the illegally held animals to resume normal operations.

"We are greatly relieved with the results from the disease testing," said Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “We take disease issues very seriously because of the potential impacts to Texas’ natural resources, the public’s wildlife, and the multi-billion dollar hunting and deer breeding industries.”

 While the lab results provide a positive conclusion to an extensive epidemiological investigation by state wildlife officials, they do not moderate the actions of a former deer breeder that led to the need for disease testing.

The breeder pled guilty to smuggling at least 37 white-tailed deer over a 3-year time span, from Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio into Texas in violation of state and federal laws. CWD has been documented in at least 10 counties in Illinois, posing a direct link for disease risk in Texas.

"It is regrettable for the state to take this action in the first place,” Smith said.

The implications from a CWD outbreak in Texas’ internationally recognized white-tailed deer population, both free-ranging and captive, would be significant. Deer hunting is annually by more than 600,000 sportsmen, and has an economic impact to the state in excess of $2.2 billion a year. Studies show deer breeding activities have an economic impact in Texas of about $650 million annually.

CWD was originally described in captive animals 35 years ago in Colorado. However, during the last five years, the fatal disease has been detected in free-ranging cervids in several surrounding states and Canada. In 2002, a year after Texas closed its borders to importation of deer because of disease risks, CWD was reported in free-ranging deer in South Dakota, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Illinois and Utah.

Currently, 20 states and Canadian provinces are tagged as having documented CWD in their deer, elk or moose. The progression of the disease into new areas remains persistent. In 2005, West Virginia detected a positive. Virginia got a confirmed case in 2010 and this year Maryland joined the list of infected states.

More than 1,200 permits are issued annually to deer breeders in Texas covering an estimated 80,000 whitetails held in captivity. The vast majority of deer breeders operate within guidelines designed to minimize risk of disease transmission. Since CWD surveillance efforts were initiated in Texas a decade ago, more than 35,000 deer samples have been submitted for testing. TPWD has tested only about 800 illegally-possessed deer from 32 different violators.

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