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Saturday, Apr 19, 2014
Editorials

Keeping a deadly threat at bay

Published:

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, under pressure by lawmakers, earlier this summer failed to adopt a proposal aimed at preventing the spread of chronic wasting disease to Florida’s deer.

Commissioners will revisit the matter Friday and this time should adopt the ban on importing live deer.

Failure to do so will endanger the state’s deer herd and deer hunting.

The deadly affliction, similar to mad cow disease, has infected deer in 22 states. It is always fatal, shredding the brains and nervous systems of infected animals. Transmission to humans has not been documented, but scientists do not rule out the possibility.

And the highly contagious disease has spread with perplexing consistency despite the best efforts of wildlife biologists throughout the nation.

Chronic wasting can be contracted by deer, elk and moose and is spread from one animal to another through body fluids or from contact with contaminated soil. The prions, the infectious proteins that cause the disease, can survive in the environment for years.

The disease has been associated with deer farms and feeding stations, where animals congregate to eat.

Despite the havoc this disease would cause the state, a number of lawmakers have urged the FWC to oppose the ban.

Opponents claim it would hurt 100 hunting preserves. Hunting preserves are a legitimate business, but they can exist without imported deer.

These few dozen operations don’t justify risking Florida’s deer, the sport of deer hunting and an outdoors industry that sustains more than 10,000 jobs.

The state already prohibits the importation of deer from states where the disease has been documented. But this is an inadequate safeguard, given chronic wasting’s history of moving rapidly across borders.

There is no way to test living deer for the disease, which has a long incubation period — perhaps several years — before animals begin showing symptoms.

Senate President Don Gaetz and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, both Panhandle Republicans, were among those lawmakers who initially had reservations about the ban. A review of the facts changed their outlook, and they’ve since urged the commission to support the proposal.

The ban has united conservation and pro-hunting groups, including the National Rifle Association, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Humane Society of the United States.

Marion Hammer of the NRA put the chronic wasting threat into proper perspective when she told the News Service of Florida: “Some folks say it’s manageable. It’s not manageable. Why should you wait to try to manage something when you can take action to prevent getting it in the first place?”

Wildlife commissioners, in reviewing the proposal, should see the obvious answer to that question.

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