The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved an update to the agency’s official Chronic Wasting Disease Management and Response Plan at a meeting this week.
During the commission’s January meetings, AGFC State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Jenn Ballard explained the need for an updated plan. The agency’s first CWD plan, finalized in 2006, solely focused on response actions should CWD be discovered in the state.
Once CWD was detected in Arkansas in 2016, the AGFC’s Deer Team then revised the plan to help with future management and surveillance for the disease.
“Since that time, we have learned so much more about this disease and its reach in Arkansas, so it was definitely time to develop a new plan to carry us into the future,” Ballard said.
The process for the new plan began in April 2020 when the Research Division and Wildlife Management Division reviewed feedback from public meetings and surveys and reviewed the plans of other states as well as best management practices from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
In June, the agency hosted a CWD roundtable event with professionals in the wildlife management and veterinary fields to discuss the management strategies and the most current science involving CWD. That information also was incorporated in this next evolution of CWD management for the agency.
Ballard presented the first draft of the plan to the commission and staff for an internal review in August. An amended plan was then circulated for external review by other agencies, organizations and researchers in December.
“This review was focused on soliciting unbiased feedback from a variety of professionals and institutions in disease research as well as wildlife management,” Ballard said. “We received 19 responses to this review, with the majority being very favorable of the plan. Ways to improve surveillance, monitoring and human dimensions regarding the disease were received, as well as a comment on congregating wildlife. Those comments were again incorporated into the final draft that was approved by the Commission today.”
An executive summary for general audiences will be created and distributed in the next few weeks to help introduce the plan to the public.
While much of the plan touches on management and surveillance techniques currently being implemented by the AGFC, many refinements have been instituted as well as the need to conduct and review future CWD research and adjust the plan as needed.
“We also hope to be one of many states participating in a project with Cornell University on surveillance optimization to learn how all states can become more efficient in their surveillance efforts,” Ballard said. “So this plan will be evolving as the science does to ensure we stay on the forefront of research in wildlife disease here in Arkansas.”