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Are Mo. Deer & Elk Threatened By Chronic Wasting Disease? Mo. House Committee Begins Hearings

A deer runs for cover with white tail in the air.
A deer runs for cover with white tail in the air.

A Missouri House interim committee heard testimony Monday on whether Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, poses a grave threat to the state's white tail deer and elk populations.

The disease in Missouri so far has been limited to two north-central counties, Linn and Macon, but it's been found in both captive and free range white tail deer.  It has not been detected in the state's elk herds in southern Missouri.  Michael Hubbard with the Missouri Department of Conservationtold the committee that the state's wildlife code needs to be reexamined in order to keep Chronic Wasting Disease from spreading.

"As a state, we face a number of challenges to our natural resources, but a primary challenge today is dealing with the possible impacts of a highly mobile society," Hubbard said.  "Issues that are on the other side of the globe can be on Missouri's doorstep in a matter of days, if not hours."

James Kroll, Ph.D.,is a professor at Steven F. Austin State University in Texas and a nationally-known wildlife expert who goes by the nickname "Doctor Deer."  He downplayed the threat before the committee and testified that white tail deer have the ability to adapt to the disease, which could cause it to phase out naturally.

"In order for an animal to adapt to any disease, so-called evolve, you got to have two things:  you got to have a large population, and you have to have high genetic variability," Kroll said.  "White tail deer have both of them."

Kroll recommended that Missouri not spend millions of dollars trying to eradicate Chronic Wasting Disease.  Committee chair Sandy Crawford (R, Buffalo) says three more meetings are tentatively scheduled this year, in Buffalo, Poplar Bluff, and a second one in Jefferson City.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.