The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) approved new regulations aimed at managing the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in “exotic” cervids, which, in Texas, includes elk. Dealing with what are termed “CWD susceptible species,” the regulations, approved May 9, 2017, require owners to keep herd records, estimated annual inventory and mortality records for any elk, red deer, sika or hybrids (and any moose, though there are few if any in Texas). To this end, owners of these species will be required to obtain a Premises Identification Number (PIN) from the agency. Whether these species are on high fence, low fence or no-fence properties, landowners must keep mortality records and submit three “eligible mortalities” (natural mortality or hunter harvest) per year for CWD testing at their own expense and provide those test results to TAHC.
Up until now, TAHC did not regulate the movements of exotic cervids. But increased scrutiny on transfers from whitetail deer breeders after CWD was discovered in captive herds in Texas (see articles 3762, 3741, 3625 and 3602) meant that it was only a matter of time before the question of unregulated movements of other CWD-susceptible species would arise.
It is important to note that the regulations don’t cover a number of other exotics, such as axis deer, fallow deer or any of the super cervids, such as barasingha, Père David or Eld deer. Though these deer are often raised within the same facilities as red deer or elk, they appear to be resistant to CWD and are not considered a risk for transport.
Two important impacts to hunters are predictable. First, as we saw when scimitar-horned oryx began to be regulated by the USFWS, many landowners will decide not to continue to raise these species. TAHC will no doubt be easier to deal with than the FWS was, but with a number of exotic species to consider, many landowners will decide against continuing with “exotics.” There are many ranches with shooter sika and red deer stags that likely will be depopulating those species. The immediate result will be low-cost hunts this fall and winter. Though discounts may not be offered at the beginning of the season, look for ranchers willing to make a deal by Jan. You can reasonably expect a fire sale before the animals shed their horns next March. If you need any or all of these for your SCI Introduced Animals of North America Inner Circle or if you simply enjoy hunting these species, you may want to act this year. The long-term result will be a reduced supply and inevitably higher prices.
The second impact is that many states had not considered exotic trophies when they passed CWD transport regulations. It may be a slow process, but expect states to discover the omission and require that carcasses and antlered trophies from exotic cervids follow the same transport regulations as whitetail deer. If you come to Texas and hunt one of these species, plan on taking back only boned-out meat, skull plates cleaned of meat, capes and ivories. No brain or spinal tissue should be moved from the ranch where you hunt.
Finally, there is a free-ranging elk herd in west Texas that may well be in danger of extirpation under these regulations. We specifically asked about these free-ranging elk and were told by Callie Ward, public information officer at TAHC, that “the rules affect free-ranging elk. The surveillance rule states that an owner of a premises where an eligible mortality of an exotic CWD-susceptible species occurs must CWD test those species until the time three animals are tested (per year) and valid test results are obtained. This rule is for all landowners, high fenced premises and low fenced premises included.” What this means for those elk remains to be seen, but the prognosis is not good.