White-tailed deer hunting is huge in Texas. There are an estimated 700,000 deer hunters and 3.5 million whitetail in the state, making Texas number one in both whitetail hunter and deer numbers. Whitetail are important for the hunting heritage of state. The “deer hunting industry” is estimated to account for over $2 billion annually, which according to my calculations makes each harvested deer worth about $3,400. That means each pound of boneless venison has a value of about $100.
In my book: wild, free-ranging white-tailed deer as well as deer hunting are simply priceless. It’s difficult to imagine a time when things could significantly change for the worse. Now… it’s been just over a month now since chronic wasting (CWD) disease was found in a captive deer herd in Texas. What will result from the discovery of CWD in Texas? Has there been an overreaction or an underrecation? Will CWD impact the future of deer hunting in Texas?
Source: There are a number of additional factors influencing this matter. Currently, the fastest and most accurate CWD detection test and the only test recognized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is a post- mortem inspection of the animal’s brain tissue. Captive breeder deer in Texas are property of the state, held by permit to possess. TPWD and TAHC have the regulatory authority to seize deer in pens for testing, but are going to great lengths to reach compromise and provide options to captive deer breeders, while balancing the risks posed to the native free-range herd as well.
There are ante-mortem, or live animal, tests available to detect CWD. Obviously, this is preferable over euthanizing deer. Unfortunately, these tests require multiple rounds over several months to reach an acceptable accuracy level. Additionally, these tests are not approved by USDA, meaning that Texas would lose “status” with USDA if live animal tests were relied upon and therefore not be able to transport deer across state lines. If the decision is made to use these tests, then a quarantine period would be necessary on exposed facilities and two additional layers of trace-out facilities while testing is completed.
The scope and scale of captive deer breeders exposed to the index facility is huge. Over 10% of the captive deer breeding industry has direct Tier 1 exposure. For disease containment purposes, TPWD and TAHC must consider additional layers of trace-out facilities from those that are directly exposed. If an additional confirmed CWD finding occurs outside of the index facility, then the process starts all over again. This could very quickly reach an enormous share of the captive deer breeder facilities in the state. TPWD and TAHC were absolutely correct to halt all movement statewide. Fortunately, July is the lowest period of captive breeder deer movement in the year.
Unfortunately, there is spike in captive breeder deer movement from mid-August to mid-September in preparation for hunting season. This is unfortunate because it creates a financial incentive for the captive deer breeding industry to push for movement restrictions to be lifted, perhaps prematurely. There is still substantial work to be done by TPWD and TAHC on testing and containment efforts. These agencies are literally working around the clock, but there are only so many qualified people and only so many hours in the day. They must be allowed to do their job in a careful way without outside pressure.
There are approximately 1,300 captive deer breeder permit holders in Texas, who hold approximately 110,000 deer in pens. For perspective, there are approximately 700,000 deer hunters and 3,900,000 free-ranging deer in Texas. The deer hunting industry at-large generates $2.1 billion of economic impact to the state per year. Rural economies and even rural property values rely on deer hunting in some form or fashion. Simply put, public faith in the health of the Texas deer herd (native free-range and captive) transcends the financial interests of 1,300 permit holders. TWA is working hard to provide that voice of reason in the discussion. As things develop more, I will continue to provide updates.
R. David Yeates TWA CEO