It’s been an on again, off again rollercoaster ride for Texas Parks & Wildlife and Texas Animal Health Commission officials and Texas deer breeders and hunters, but effective mid-October, the latest and final proposed rule concerning Chronic Wasting Disease in Texas cervids is ready for public review and comment for a 45-day period.

The proposed rule comes in the wake of the discovery of CWD in two mule dear earlier this year in the Hueco Mountains in far West Texas near the New Mexico border, the first such cases of the disease within Texas borders. At the time of that discovery, TPWD had already prepared a set of proposed CWD rules, but those were put on hold until state biologists and officials at the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) could take a closer look at the implications brought about by an actual case(s) of CWD in the state and by building pressure nationwide to adopt a national standard regarding the movement of cervids across state lines.

The proposed changes to the rules are garnering wide interest across the state among members and supporters of the state’s lucrative hunting industry and especially in the commercial cervid breeding industry. In both cases, especially the later, changes in the rules could result in additional financial responsibilities and potential losses in the way the industries conducts business.

TAHC is proposing amendments to existing rule 40.1, concerning definitions, existing rule 40.2 concerning general requirements, existing rule 40.3 concerning herd status plans for cervidae, existing rule 40.5 concerning testing requirements for elk, and new rule 40.7, an Executive Director Declaration of a CWD Movement Restriction Zone. The proposed amendments are for the purpose of revising a number of the current requirements to address a variety of recent actions involving CWD within the state.

TAHC currently provides a voluntary herd monitored status program for species that are susceptible to CWD. Currently, all breeders of white-tailed deer, through the direction of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, participate in a CWD monitoring program through either TPWD or TAHC. The new rule amendments will require additional cervid species to participate in surveillance for CWD.

Following the discovery of the two mule deer in Texas that tested positive for CWD, the creation of CWD Movement Restriction Zone(s) was established with restrictions put in place to protect against the exposure and spread of CWD into additional regions of the state. These actions are being taken in a coordinated effort by both TPWD and the Commission.

TAHC and TPWD say these proposed state rules come just after USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced an interim final rule to establish a national CWD Herd Certification Program and minimum requirements for interstate movement of deer, elk and moose, or cervids, in the United States, but the program is designed to be voluntary, and state officials say they believe mandatory rules are critical in making certain CWD does not spread rapidly.

What Changes To Expect

State officials say the primary purpose of the amended rules are intended to help control the spread of this disease by establishing acceptable program standards for interstate movement.

In proposed changes for rule 40.1 entitled “Definitions,” TAHC is amending or adding definitions that will be used in the various other CWD sections. The Commission is adding definitions for 'Approved Laboratory', 'Certified CWD Sample Collector, CWD Susceptible Species, CWD Test Eligible, Commingled/Commingling', 'Farmed or Captive', 'Limited Contact', 'Official Animal Identification', and 'Physical Herd Inventory'.

Also, the Commission is amending the definitions for 'Chronic Wasting Disease' (CWD), 'CWD Profile', 'Herd', 'Official Eartag', 'Positive Herd'and 'Trace Herd'.

In rule 40.2, entitled “General Requirements,” the standard for restricting animals that are classified as trace-backs in response to the new federal standards is being amended. This is changing it from the current standard of 48 months to 60 months.

In proposed changes for rule 40.3 entitled “Herd Status Plans for Cervidae,” subsection (a) provides the enrollment requirements and stipulates that herd owners who enroll must agree to maintain their herds in accordance with these requirements. Subsection (b) provides the testing requirements. Subsection (c) establishes the various levels within the herd status program. Subsection (d) provides identification requirements and that each animal required to be identified by this section must have at least two forms of animal identification attached to the animal. Subsection (e) provides the record keeping requirements that the herd owner shall maintain records for animals including any movements and for a transfer of ownership, and provide those to Commission personnel upon request.

Records required to be kept under the provisions of this section shall be maintained for not less than five years under terms of the proposed rule change.

The records shall include the following information: all identifications (tags, tattoos electronic implants, etc.), birth date, species, sex, date of acquisition, and source of each animal that was not born into the herd, date of removal and destination of any animal removed from herd, date and cause of death for animals dying within the herd (if cause is known), date of CWD sample submission, submitter, owner, premises, and animal information, and official CWD test results from approved laboratory.

Subsection (f) provides that a premise where a herd is located may be inspected by the Commission to determine compliance with the requirements. Subsection (g) requires that a fee be paid for participation in a Commission CWD Herd Status Program for Cervidae as provided for in Rule 33.5 entitled “Herd Status/Certification Fees”.

In addition, an annual inventory verified by Commission personnel is assessed a fee of $100.00 per hour. Subsection (i) provides for cancellation or suspension of enrollment by the Executive Director.

In rule 40.5, subsection (a) is being changed to add definitions which are specific for this section. The rule is then amended throughout the section to indicate that the requirements are applicable to include North American elk or wapiti (Cervus Canadensis), red deer (Cervus elaphus), Sika deer (Cervus Nippon), moose (Alces alces), and any associated subspecies and hybrids. All mule deer, white-tailed deer, and native species under the jurisdiction of TPWD are excluded from this definition.

Section 40.7 is a new section which will delegate authority to the Executive Director to issue an order to declare a CWD high risk area or county based on sound epidemiological principles for disease detection, control, and eradication. Subsection (a) is definitions and subsection (b) provides that the Executive Director may issue an order to declare a CWD high risk area or county.

The epidemiological criteria used for designating an area or county as high risk may include the presence of disease, multiple positive animals in the area, and common husbandry and animal use practices that could lead to disease exposure. Subsection (c) indicates the necessary elements for an order and subsection (d) provides for the publication of notice.

Comments regarding the proposal may be submitted to Carol Pivonka, Texas Animal Health Commission, 2105 Kramer Lane, Austin, Texas 78758, by fax at (512) 719-0721 or by e-mail at “comments@tahc.state.tx.us”.