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By Ellen H. Brisendine

Editor's note: Wildlife issues were prominent in the discussions at the June 13 to 15 meeting of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), Fredericksburg. The summer meeting is 1 of the 3 major meetings for TSCRA, allowing the standing committees to discuss issues concerning cattle raisers and develop and submit policy to the board of directors for consideration.

While this summer's meeting did not generate new policy resolutions, it allowed guests, members, committee members, directors and officers time to study issues and prepare for further discussions at the fall meeting, Sept. 22 to 24, Austin.

Most of TSCRA's standing committees met during the summer meeting. Since this issue focuses on wildlife and ranching, we'll devote most of the coverage to the Wildlife and Animal Health Committee discussions.

For a list of TSCRA's committees, visit tscra.org and click on Member Center and navigate to "Leaders" in left navigation.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been discovered in mule deer in New Mexico, a mile from the Texas border. Dr. Dee Ellis, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), and Mitch Lockwood, big game program director, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), discussed the situation at the joint meeting of the Animal Health and Wildlife Committees. Wesley Welch, Lubbock, and Tom Moorhouse, Benjamin, serve as chair and vice chair of the Animal Health Committee. Dan Kinsel, Cotulla, and Debra Clark, Henrietta, are chair and vice chair of the Wildlife Committee.

Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in Far West Texas

Samples from 2 mule deer recently taken in far West Texas have been confirmed positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), reported the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) in a joint news release issued July 10.

These are the first cases of CWD detected in Texas deer. Wildlife officials believe the event is isolated in a remote part of the state near the New Mexico border. TPWD and TAHC implemented regionally focused deer sample collection efforts after the disease was detected in the Hueco Mountains of New Mexico during the 2011 to 2012 hunting season.

With the assistance of cooperating landowners, TPWD, TAHC, and USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services biologists and veterinarians collected samples from 31 mule deer as part of a strategic CWD surveillance plan designed to determine the geographic extent of New Mexico’s findings. Both infected deer were taken from the Hueco Mountains of northern El Paso and Hudspeth counties.

Tissue samples were initially tested by the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, with confirmation by the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

"Now that we have detected CWD in Texas, our primary objective is to contain this disease," said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. "Working collaboratively with experts in the field we have developed protocols to address CWD, and implementation is already under way."

There is no vaccine or cure for CWD, but steps have been taken to minimize the risk of the disease spreading from beyond the area where it exists. For example, human-induced movements of wild or captive deer, elk, or other susceptible species will be restricted and mandatory hunter check stations will be established.

"This is obviously an unfortunate and rather significant development," said Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Chair T. Dan Friedkin. "We take the presence of this disease very seriously and have a plan of action to deal with it. The department will do whatever is prudent and reasonable to protect the state’s deer resources and our hunting heritage."

Although wildlife officials cannot say how long the disease has been present in Texas or whether it occurs in other areas of the state, they have had an active CWD surveillance program for more than a decade.

Wildlife biologists, hunters, and landowners would certainly have preferred for Texas mule deer populations to have not been dealt this challenge, but TPWD and TAHC have developed a CWD Management Plan that includes management practices intended to contain the disease. The management plan includes input from the CWD Task Force, which is composed of deer and elk producers, wildlife biologists, veterinarians and other animal health experts from TPWD, TAHC, Department of State Health Services, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and USDA.

The disease was first recognized in 1967 in captive mule deer in Colorado. CWD has also been documented in captive and free-ranging deer in 19 states and 2 Canadian provinces.

More information can be found at these websites:

Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance
cwd-info.org

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
tpwd.state.tx.us.
Enter "chronic wasting disease" in the search box at the upper right on the home page.

Texas Animal Health Commission
tahc.state.tx.us
.
Enter "chronic wasting disease" in the search box in the left column on the home page.

"It will be a significant event if we find CWD in Texas, and I think we will," Ellis said.

CWD is a fatal disease that causes deer to become unthrifty, emaciated and listless. Symptoms include excessive salivation, difficulty walking without bumping into things, and drooping of the head. CWD is caused by a prion and has a 2- to 4-year incubation period. The prion is passed through secretions from an infected animal and is able to survive in the environment for decades.

"We do not, in theory, have CWD in the state now, officially," Ellis said, but finding it close to the border with New Mexico is cause for concern.

Mule deer and white-tailed deer are susceptible to CWD. Because they are classified as game species, they are regulated by TPWD. Elk, red deer and sika are considered exotic species and are regulated by TAHC. CWD has been detected at a relatively high prevalence in both mule deer and elk in portions of New Mexico.

"TAHC has passed requirements for elk surveillance, because that species is susceptible to CWD. And because a new infected red deer herd has been found in Minnesota, and because new rules have been proposed by USDA, we are expanding our requirements to include red deer and sika."

TPWD has been conducting CWD surveillance in white-tailed deer and mule deer for 10 years, Ellis reported. "We've looked hard in much of the state and haven't found it. What does that mean? If we have it right now, we don't have much of it. That's the good news."

The infected mule deer found closest to Texas were in the Hueco Mountains, which run north to south. Given the travel patterns of mule deer, those deer had probably entered Texas.

Lockwood said there has been very little surveillance of CWD in that particular game management unit in New Mexico. In Texas, however, "more than 26,500 wild white-tailed deer and mule deer have been tested," Lockwood said. CWD has never been detected in the state but "we haven't been able to test many deer from the area of greatest risk. Not for lack of effort, but there just aren't many mule deer and not that many hunters in that particular area. They don't have nearly as many locker plants out there as we do over here in Fredericksburg," he pointed out, since TPWD collects many CWD samples from hunter-harvested deer stored at cold-storage facilities.

TPWD proposes, and will publish in the Texas Register, "rules to help us improve our ability to determine the prevalence and geographic extent of the disease if we do detect it in the state," Lockwood explained. The goal is to contain it in whatever area it might exist.

The proposed containment zone reaches from El Paso to Van Horn at Hwy. 54, to Hwys. 62 and 180, to the Guadalupe Mountains, primarily in El Paso and Hudspeth counties. TPWD proposes mandatory hunter check stations in that containment zone so tissue samples may be collected from mule deer taken by hunters.

Lockwood said TAHC and -TPWD are also considering mandatory sampling of hunter-harvested elk; however, "We would need to work out the logistics of how that would work because the mule deer season lasts 17 days, while elk season lasts 365 days. Perhaps elk sampling would be mandatory for only a portion of the year."

The notion of 2 zones has also been proposed by TAHC, Ellis reported — a containment zone and a high-risk zone that would mirror the TPW proposal. The high-risk zone would include the land north of IH 10 and IH 20 between Hwy. 54 and the Pecos River.

"Our issue with mule deer is man-made transportation," Ellis said. "They're not going to walk to Kerrville [from far West Texas]. We want to make sure if mule deer are infected with CWD they stay out there in far West Texas and don't get into our white-tail population in South Texas."

Lockwood agreed, saying, "We are trying to prevent movement of this disease beyond where it might currently exist. We have proposed that there will be no movement allowed and no confinement of deer in the containment zone, so we're not increasing the number of hosts in an area and increasing the likelihood of disease being transmitted."

TPWD oversees captive white-tailed and mule deer breeding operations in Texas. "We are proposing no movement of captive deer from the containment zone except from facilities in a herd-monitoring program for 5 years with Texas Animal Health Commission," Lockwood said. "Fortunately, there not any captive mule deer in the area at this time."

There are 10 permitted deer breeders in the Trans-Pecos region, and more than 1,300 deer breeder facilities in the state.

Lockwood said the deer breeder program has grown steadily since 1990s, and "those facilities are authorized to hold a lot of deer, including mule deer. In Culberson County there are 2 facilities that could hold up to 200 deer, a facility in Brewster County could hold more than 200 deer, and a facility in Medina County could hold 160 deer."

Along with the holding facilities, there are more than 3,400 deer release sites in Texas. These are sites at which operators of deer breeding facilities may release deer into the wild. More than 30,000 breeder deer were released during the 2011-12 permit year, Lockwood reported.

Deer cannot be moved legally from a deer breeder facility unless at least 20 percent of adult mortalities have been tested for CWD. Each released deer must be marked with a unique 4-digit identification to allow for traceability.

Silencer regulations

TPWD Colonel David Sinclair, interim director of law enforcement, also spoke at the Wildlife Committee about law enforcement developments. He explained that regulatory changes regarding the use of silencers by hunters will go into effect Sept. 1.

"We use the term silencers instead of sound suppressors because silencer is the term used in the penal code and federal law. Hunters will be able to use silencers for game animals, game birds and alligators beginning this September."

Expect to spend about 9 months to a year obtaining your permit to possess a silencer, Sinclair said. He suggested working with the manufacturer or a Class 3 permit holder to obtain the permit.

In other TPWD news, Sinclair reported that the 2011 Texas Legislature fully funded 30 new game warden positions. Those positions have been filled, and the additional game wardens are serving along the Texas border with Mexico.

Watch the September issue of The Cattleman for a special report from the Brand and Inspection Committee, which featured Hank Whitman, retiring assistant director, Texas Department of Public Safety and chief, Texas Rangers; and the incoming chief, Kirby Dendy. Whitman and Dendy reported on the increased presence the Texas Rangers and TPWD game wardens are exerting along the border with Mexico.

Texas Hunting Outlook

Clayton Wolf, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) wildlife division director, said at the TSCRA summer meeting, "We always predict hunting season is going to be a good season in Texas. Bob Cook [past executive director of TPWD] used to say an average hunting season in Texas is always better than a good hunting season anywhere else."

No changes to the quail season

Wolf, speaking at the Wildlife Committee meeting, lead by Dan Kinsel, Cotulla, chair, and Debra Clark, Henrietta, vice chair, began his report on the hunting season outlook with the quail outlook. Quail populations have been in decline across the southeastern U.S. and Texas for many years, but Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) commissioners have not proposed any changes to quail season or bag limits.

The quail decline "correlates with a lot of other grassland bird species. We've always looked at the Rolling Plains and South Texas as our last strongholds for bobwhite quail," Wolf said.

While the population decline in recent years has been alarming, scientists have not concluded that reduced hunting season or bag limits would improve the quail numbers. Help is needed on the landscape level and TPWD will continue to follow a national model to develop quail focus areas. Two focus areas are in place in Texas, and another is under development. The Wildlife Habitat Federation is taking the lead on an effort in the Bellville and Cat Springs areas. In Navarro County, the Western Navarro County Bobwhite Initiative is gaining support among landowners.

Wolf reports the third model will be "in the transition zone between the Rolling Plains and Cross Timbers, possibly as far north as Clay County and as far south as Stephens or Shackelford County.

"Quail depend on native grassland habitat. Management has to be done on a meaningful scale. We're certain we will have landowners who will want to cooperate at a meaningful level."

White-tailed deer regulations changed near certain urban areas

"The No. 1 game species in Texas is white-tailed deer," Wolf said. "The latest statistics show $4.4 billion in economic activity from hunting in Texas. White-tailed deer, or big game, accounted for more than half of that amount."

Not surprisingly, the 2011 fawn crop was one of the poorest crops on record, Wolf said, due to the exceptional drought last year. Going into the 2012 hunting season, "It doesn't take a wildlife biologist to recognize we have more forage on the landscape now. We're predicting good antler quality. We have a good number of bucks that are 2.5, 5.5 and 7.5 years old because the 2010, 2007 and 2005 seasons were relatively good seasons. The distribution of cohorts out there should provide for mature bucks to harvest."

Wolf reported that in certain urban areas, pockets of deer populations are increasing. To control the population and to increase hunting opportunity, the TPW commissioners adopted regulations to allow archery hunting in Dallas, Collin and Rockwall Counties. This will be the first season in many years in these counties, Wolf said, adding, "there will be limited hunting opportunities in those areas where local ordinances allow for it, if the deer are within city limits or within county jurisdictions."

Hunting has also opened in Galveston County, Wolf reported, with a season and bag limit similar to Harris County and Southeast Texas.  

Pronghorn fawns faring better this year

Pronghorn antelope had a very difficult year in 2011 with "abysmal fawn recruitment rates in the Panhandle and Trans-Pecos," Wolf reported.

There is good news this year with early evaluations showing an increased fawn crop with heavier birth weights and better growth rates. Wolf predicted that the number of hunting permits for pronghorn antelope may decrease some this year, and he does not anticipate any permits for the Trans-Pecos being issued outside of Hudspeth and Culberson Counties.

Mule deer population is stable, but may see some regulation changes to track disease

The 2011 drought has been harsh on the Trans-Pecos mule deer population, Wolf reported, adding that the mule deer population in the Panhandle appears stable.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in a mule deer population in New Mexico, a mile from the Texas border, and in 2 mule deer recently tested in far West Texas. Wolf reported that any regulation changes for mule deer hunting will be discussed at the August TPW commissioners meeting. Any regulation changes to track CWD in mule deer will be published in the Texas Register, discussed at public hearings and will be open for public comment.

In-depth discussion of CWD in the New Mexico mule deer was a leading topic at the joint Animal Health and Wildlife Committee meeting. Read about this discussion in "Texas Prepares to Fend Off Wildlife Disease," starting on page 10.

Bighorn sheep population slightly decreased

There are approximately 1,300 Bighorn sheep in the Texas population. Wolf said rough conditions have been hard on the sheep, but there was no precipitous decline in the West Texas population. He expects 12 to 14 permits will be issued this year. Fourteen permits were issued in 2011.

Expect good selection of 2-year-old turkeys

"We think we have quite a few 2-year-old turkeys out there," Wolf reported. "If you were part of the spring turkey hunting season this year, you know there were reports of lots of gobbling. When the countryside is green the birds are physiologically in better breeding condition."  

Water fowl — a tale of extremes

Breeding grounds for water fowl are in the best shape they've been in for a long time. "We had record hatches of water fowl," Wolf said. However, looking south, the birds ran out of water. "Many water fowl hunters missed out on hunting in traditional areas," he commented.

Because water fowl had good breeding conditions this year, Wolf anticipates a "liberal package for ducks from [U.S.] Fish and Wildlife Service."  

Dove off to a good start

Since mourning and whitewing dove rely on weed and grass seeds to feed their young, these species seem to be off to a good start in 2012. "By September, we should have quite a few mourning dove," Wolf reported.

TPWD staff members are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the special whitewing hunting area in South Texas.  If approved, the special whitewing hunting area would expand east to Interstate 37 below San Antonio."We expect feedback soon, probably not for this hunting season, but for the following season," he reported.

For details on TPWD hunting regulations, visit tpwd.state.tx.us and click on Hunting.

The Health of the Texas Livestock Herd

Dr. Dee Ellis, executive director of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), included a report on the state of livestock health in Texas during the Animal Health Committee meeting at the summer meeting of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), June 13 to 15, Fredericksburg.

Trichomoniasis (trich)

Statewide testing shows a 2 percent prevalence of trich in Texas. In the first 4 months of 2012, 14,000 bulls were tested for trichomoniasis and 220 positives were found. Eighteen herds are under quarantine. If trich is found in a Texas herd, bulls must be tested negative twice before they can be released from quarantine.

TAHC will propose rules allowing herd owners to send pooled samples of up to 5 bulls in 1 test to the lab. This proposed rule may reduce test costs from $130 to $30. If a pooled sample shows trich is present, then each of the bulls represented in the sample will be individually tested.

Trich certifications are valid for 60 days, an extension from the original 30 days.


Brucellosis (bangs)

In the summer of 2011, state budget cuts eliminated funding for mandatory brucellosis testing of cattle at the change of ownership. TAHC removed the regulation for bangs testing, but retained the regulation for a tag. "We did not want to stop loss of traceability," Ellis said.

"We will work with stakeholders on an implementation plan for official ID to be continued in adult cattle sold."

Budget constraints are also affecting the USDA support of national slaughter surveillance for bangs. Ellis expects slaughter surveillance, nationwide, to be reduced to "maybe as few as a million a year" in 2013. "Right now we’re testing 2 million per year just in Texas."

Feral swine brucellosis is showing up in cattle, Ellis reported. "It complicates the test and can cause a problem for ranchers. If the tested cow is alive, we can get a milk sample," and correctly diagnose the disease.

The importance of calfhood bangs vaccinations became evident during the drought of 2011, when cattle were moved to states with grass resources. Fourteen states require heifers to be bangs vaccinated, "and those animals had value added to them by having [brucellosis] orange tags."

Piroplasmosis (piro)

This equine disease is being transmitted by horses out of Mexico, Ellis reported. TAHC proposed a rule last year, with the Texas Racing Commission, requiring a negative piroplasmosis test for race horses to come to Texas race tracks.

"Border violence is not only affecting cattle issues, but horse issues as well," Ellis said. "There is no legal way to get a horse from Mexico through any of the 5 ports. Horses were supposed to be tested and held on the Mexican side in a bug-proof environment until they have a negative test. All those facilities are closed now. The only way to get horse into Texas is go around Texas or walk across the river."

Nine new cases of piro have been diagnosed in Texas this year. Since piro is considered a foreign animal disease, Texas horse trade is negatively affected.

Cattle fever tick

Texas experienced a huge improvement in the cattle fever tick infestation of South Texas last year, Ellis said.

USDA leaders saw the importance of controlling cattle fever ticks and pushing them back into the buffer zone along the border with Mexico. Subsequently, they supported the program, "probably better than any other thing in the U.S.," Ellis said.

Drought, cold winter weather in the last couple of years, and extra work on the part of managers, ranchers and the TAHC tick force, have combined to reduce the number of quarantined premises by half.


"Texas Prepares to Fend Off Wildlife Disease" is from the January 2012 issue of The Cattleman magazine.