Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners approved a new federal rule this week that outlines changes in animal health regulations that will affect protocols for handling and testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the Texas cervid population. The new rule will be published in the next issue of the Texas Register and allows for a 20-day period for public comment before the rule takes affect.

State wildlife and animal health officials say the new rule is “timely” after Texas experienced its first case of CWD in June this year when two male mule deer near the New Mexico border in Far West Texas tested positive for the disease.

CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder that affects cervid species such as white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and others susceptible species. It is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a family of diseases that includes scrapie (found in sheep) and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE, found in cattle and commonly known as Mad Cow Disease).

TPWD closed the Texas border in 2005 to the entry of out-of-state captive white-tailed and mule deer over fears of CWD and has increased regulatory requirements regarding disease monitoring and recordkeeping. Since 2002, the department has tested more than 26,500 wild deer in Texas for CWD, and cervid producers have submitted more than 7,400 test results to the department.  

The new rule represents the second attempt by TPWD to put the issue before the public. The first set of proposed rules was withdrawn by Commissioners when additional study indicated parts of the proposed rules required amendments. The new federal rules address not only monitoring and movement of cervid populations in the wild but also those at breeding facilities across the state.

Karl Kinsel, a Texas breeder and livestock producer, serves as executive director for the Texas Deer Association (TDA), the non-profit group that has long advocated cervid health issues and serves as a trade association for member breeders across the state. Along with a group of individual ranch owners and state officials, Kinsel served on the Cervid Health Working Group in reviewing and discussing TAHC’s monitored herd program, proposed intrastate and interstate movement rules, surveillance programs and monitoring efforts of wild and farm-raised deer.

Kinsel says TDA members were interested in how current industry practices and regulations compared to the proposed new rules.

“The hearing in Austin went rather well as far as (the) information we had to work with. We discussed how the rules would establish containment areas as needed and talked about the movement of deer. We reviewed the state’s proposed emergency response plan when chronic wasting disease is discovered,” Kinsel said.

“We are fortunate to have good people over at Parks and Wildlife and at the Texas Animal Health Commission. Many states have overreacted to the threat and we wanted to make certain we took a scientific approach to the problem and separated the facts from the myths when it comes to CWD.”

Kinsel says the TDA was formed in part to help members deal with animal health issues and to make certain breeders are using the best methods possible to ensure the best pen-to- pasture practices.