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December 8, 2015 Testimony - Patrick Tarlton

January 25, 2016
Patrick Tarlton

Senate Committee on Agriculture Public Hearing

Public Testimony – Chronic Wasting Disease Interim Study
Tuesday, December 8, 2015

 Good morning Chairman Perry and committee members.  My name is Patrick Tarlton and I am the Executive Director of the Texas Deer Association. Our Association represented an industry that contributed more than $700 million dollars to the Texas economy each year and employed more than 8,000 hard working Texas families across the state. Today, that economic contribution to the Texas economy is in jeopardy.

 The discovery of CWD in Texas in July of this year precipitated regulatory actions averse to the free conduct of trade in the whitetail deer industry. For the past decade, deer ranchers in this state have led the way in CWD testing. No one is more committed to mitigating, controlling, and finding the source of CWD than deer ranchers in Texas. Our very livelihoods depend on it.

 The Rules currently governing our industry were created in response to a perceived emergency that we now know does not exist. Texas Animal Health Commission and Texas Parks and Wildlife staff have accumulated thousands of test samples and gained a wealth of information which they did not have at the time of creation and implementation of the Emergency CWD Rules.

 Last month, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission formalized these Emergency Rules, binding our industry to regulations crafted in response to the first CWD positive finding in July, continuing through August 31st of next year. However, the Commission and staff have also committed to industry that the rules will be reevaluated by May of 2016.

 Therefore, as we prepare to again change the rules in the Spring of 2016, the “abundance of caution” upon which the existing Rules were created must be balanced with the thousands of negative test results and all the facts recently gathered across the state and before us now. Texas deer ranchers have euthanized and tested more than 800 healthy deer from within their pens since July 1st, and thousands of tests have been collected from hunter harvests. To date, only seven deer have tested positive for CWD. All of these animals can be easily correlated back to the same cohort at the index herd facility.

 The absence of any additional positive test results across our industry significantly narrows the potential impact of this CWD incident on both the wild and captive herds. The statistical significance of non-detected results should immediately alter the dynamics of future regulations governing our industry.

 The rhetoric and regulation surrounding CWD has forever changed the economic potential of wildlife management and land stewardship. What once was a thriving industry has now been significantly damaged by imposing unwarranted testing requirements upon ranchers, landowners, outfitters and hunters.

 The true impact of CWD is in our rural communities, hitting hard-working agriculture and wildlife families the hardest. In many cases, rural Texans committed their savings, their livelihoods, and their time building what once was a successful business model surrounding white-tailed deer.

 Texans have invested billions into wildlife management. Understanding that land fragmentation was once destroying our deer herds, families across the state began managing their property and their animals in order to ensure the deer herd remained vibrant. They rejuvenated land, revitalized resources, and created sustainable ecosystems that enriched the deer herd in Texas. These practices took time, money, and long-term investment from strong-willed, determined rural Texans.

 It is these families that have been impacted the most. The uncertainty surrounding the regulations and regulatory process and the unreasonable burden of CWD testing for their customer base have crippled rural Texas families from Lubbock to Brownsville. The damage to land values and physical assets is undeniable to our producers and constitute an unreasonable risk to our customers.   

 However, we have the opportunity to rebuild. We have the opportunity to revitalize a once booming industry – to do what is right for all rural Texans.

 Industries across the state have worked with their regulators to create fair, reasonable, and balanced regulations to ensure the sustainability of their businesses. The nearly billion-dollar deer industry in Texas should be no different. Consistent, predictable, and equitable regulations are what define the Texas business environment. These components are what make our state the model for economic growth across the country!

 There is no bigger wildlife economy in the United States than right here in Texas. We must develop a system that continues the growth and prosperity of this unique economy. Rural Texas is dependent upon it.

 It impacts every facet of our small towns across the vast landscape in the state. Deer farms, feed companies, fueling stations, real estate transactions, hunting ranches, 4H and FFA programs, and even equipment manufacturers are just a few of the entities dependent on building a sustainable and prosperous business climate.

 Regulators and industry must work together to make certain we are balancing private property rights, economic impacts, and disease management. We can build a testing model that incorporates science, epidemiology, common sense and economics. The deer industry in Texas is in dire need of a permitting process that provides regulatory certainty while maintaining a climate conducive to business growth. To that end we would ask your continued interest, involvement, guidance and over-sight.

 We know that challenges lie ahead. The Texas Deer Association is committed to working alongside regulators to achieve fair and balanced rules that take into account the economic livelihood of our essential rural Texas industry.

 Thank you for your time, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.