Vermont Officials Rush to Address Deer Disease

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(Host) Vermont officials are rushing to develop emergency rules to deal with the potential spread of a fatal deer disease. Officials say rules are needed to track the number of captive herds, and to require testing of the animals for Chronic Wasting Disease.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Like Mad Cow disease, the neurological disorder is always fatal, and it kills its victims by forming sponge-like holes in their brains.

The disease has now shown up in a two herds of captive deer in central New York State. Before that, it hadn’t been seen east of Illinois. But now Chronic Wasting Disease is just a four-hour car ride from Vermont.

Kerry Rood is the state veterinarian.

(Rood) “This is a wake-up call to us all. We need to take a hard look at the rules and regulations and legal authorities to try to minimize our risk of getting that established in the wild population.”

(Dillon) A state task force that met on Tuesday proposed emergency rules to deal with the threat. A primary goal is to learn how many domesticated herds are in Vermont. So the first requirement is for owners of the herds to register their animals with the state. Rood says he’s aware of four herds, but says there could be a dozen or more.

(Rood) “We need to locate, identify and sort of have an inventory as to that industry in the state.”

(Dillon) The new rules apply to all animals in the deer family, including elk and reindeer. Owners would be required to test animals over sixteen months of age when they’re slaughtered.

Craig McLaughlin is director of wildlife at the Fish and Wildlife Department, and a member of the chronic wasting disease task force. McLaughlin says it’s imperative that the state move swiftly before the disease takes hold in Vermont.

(McLaughlin) “It’s a very strong, very impending threat to the state’s wild deer population. We have to act in a very strong way to make sure that we’ve placed all safeguards possible in effect to prevent it from entering the state of Vermont.”

(Dillon) The state also wants to ban the use of feed that contains protein made from ruminants, such as sheep. It’s believed that the disease could have first spread from this kind of feed. In addition, the regulations would impose strict requirements on fencing, to ensure that the captive deer and elk remain fenced in, and don’t infect the wild deer herd.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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