Two Pennsylvania Congressmen are pushing for federal funding to find a cure for chronic wasting disease. U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-15th District, introduced the Chronic Wasting Disease Research Act on Friday, which would authorize $15 million in federal funding to states, higher education institutions and other entities researching a cure for CWD.
It is a bipartisan proposal. The pair of Republican Congressmen of neighboring Pennsylvania districts introduced it with Texas Democrats Rep. Filemon Vela and Rep. Henry Cuellar.
The Chronic Wasting Disease Research Act amends the Animal Health Protection Act to establish a grant program for research on the fatal disease.
It is Joyce’s second legislative proposal to support the 13th District’s hunting community and address the outbreak of CWD in the region.
In February, Joyce co-sponsored HR 837, which instructs the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to partner with the National Academies of Science to study and identify the ways CWD is transmitted between wild, captive and farmed deer.
The new legislation introduced Friday, Joyce points out, will allow additional investments in expedited research opportunities and also encourage a multitude of innovative studies.
“For the past couple of months, I have heard from countless hunters from Blair and Bedford about chronic wasting disease and the problematic actions the Pennsylvania Game Commission took to address it,” a statement attributed to Joyce read. “While I recently offered an initial solution by co-sponsoring legislation to implement a federal study to find a cure for the disease without harming hunters in PA-13, we can do even more on this issue. The legislation being introduced today will ensure Congress allocates sufficient and timely funding that will incentivize the innovation necessary to cure this terrible disease amongst our region’s deer.”
The CWD issue became controversial when the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced the launch of a pilot study, which sought to enlist U.S. Department of Agriculture sharpshooters to eliminate thousands of deer in the region. The goal of the pilot study was to examine if lowering the deer population can control the spread of CWD, which has no known cure.
The study was halted because the sharpshooters could not get sufficient permission to access the private land needed to set up baiting stations that would help them kill the deer.
A statement from Joyce’s press office said that he became involved when the Mirror reported that the sharpshooters might have to return next year to finish the study.
The possibility of the continuation of the Gaming Commission’s study brought more complaints from hunters in the 13th District, prompting Joyce to get involved.
Rod Swope of Imler, vice president of Sportsman for the Future, a group that opposes the Game Commission’s study, praised Joyce’s continued commitment to finding an alternative CWD solution.
“Congressman Joyce has been a strong advocate for our hunting community ever since we made him aware of the chronic wasting disease issue,” read a statement from Swope that was included with Joyce’s statement.
“I’m pleased that the he is again offering federal legislation that will provide even more money for CWD studies that do not result in an unnecessary purge of the region’s deer. While the Game Commission’s policies have shown that they do not seem to fully grasp the weight of our concerns, Congressman Joyce has made clear that he wants to listen to us and be our voices in Washington.”
In a March 25 Game Commission meeting, Commissioner Tim Layton claimed that the resistance the agency is facing from area hunters is a result of a “public relations” issue.
Joyce responded with a Facebook post stating: “The PA Game Commission is wrong. They don’t have a public relations problem, they have a policy problem. Hunters in the 13th District want a CWD solution that doesn’t unnecessarily harm deer. We should be using science to address this issue and I will continue to work hard to secure federal funds to find a cure.”
The fatal and contagious neurological disorder causes brain damage in cervids, mammals of the deer family. As the disease spreads, infected animals exhibit changes in behavior and appearance, including significant weight loss, stumbling and lack of coordination.
The legislation specifically supports research to find a cure or vaccine to help combat the progressive disease, Thompson said.
“Chronic wasting disease is devastating deer, elk and moose populations in Pennsylvania and other states in the U.S.,” Thompson’s statement said. “We don’t know enough about this neurological disease, but we need to in order to ensure healthy deer populations and prevent it from spreading further. This bill increases our investment in research to find out what causes this fatal disease and how we can cure it.”
Ensuring the long-term viability of cervid populations is also important to people of Texas, according to a statement from Cuellar.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our nation’s economy,” Cuellar stated. “The deer breeding and deer hunting industry generates $7.9 billion of economic activity for the U. S. economy. In addition, the industry provides the economic activity that supports 56,320 domestic jobs, most of which are located in rural areas, like those in my district. My hope is that this measure provides reasonable and necessary protections to this vulnerable livestock, on which many South Texans rely.”
The North American Deer Farmers Association ( NADeFA) praised the bill.
“I would like to personally thank Congressman Thompson and our other sponsors Congressmen Vela, Joyce and Cuellar for working with NADeFA and introducing this very important legislation,said Shawn Schafer, executive director of NADeFA. “For years the deer farming industry has been a primary funder of CWD research. This bill is a vital step towards ensuring the federal government participates in this necessary research. With the leadership of our sponsors, we will work toward the goal of eradicating CWD in farmed and wild deer populations around the country.”