CWD: Hello ; CWD: Hello, anyone home?

October 7, 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Frazen
President Bush lost Wisconsin in the 2000 election only by the narrowest of margins. Clearly, because ours is a state that could go either way in the next national election, it certainly is logical to think that Bush would have an interest in currying favor with voters here. As a cabinet member in the Bush administration, former Gov. Tommy Thompson is ostensibly in a unique position to effectively and forcefully communicate the concerns of state voters to the president.

Gov. Scott McCallum, a Repblican who for 14 years played Robin to Thompson's Batman, is in an election race that he could easily lose to his Democrat opponent. Surely, Bush doesn't want to see a Democrat sitting in the governor's chair.

Yet aside from an infusion of $3.55 million in May, the federal government has been largely missing in action in the fight against chronic wasting disease in Wisconsin. And the foot-dragging continues, despite repeated and insistent pleas from McCallum and the state's congressional delegation.

Two Wisconsinites in the effort to get the feds' attention are Rep. Ron Kind and Sen. Russ Feingold, both Democrats. But they have had the bipartisan support, Kind says, of every member of the delegation.

Still nothing, or at least very little, from the feds.

The state could use the help, especially in light of reports last week that the cost of combating CWD could hit $12.2 million in this budget year, and even higher down the road. And it's not as if this is just a Wisconsin problem.

"This is a disease that's spreading from coast to coast," said Kind. "It carries tremendous testing costs as well as costs associated with the disposal of deer carcasses. There's a lot more the federal government can do to help stop the spread."

The first thing, Kind says, is to better coordinate research into the causes and consequences of CWD -- which, left unchecked, could devastate the hunting and tourism industries in the state -- and increase funding for that research. In addition to making repeated requests for federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kind has authored legislation that would provide more funding for research.

Over in the Senate, Feingold has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation authored by Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) that would provide an additional $3 million to $4 million for research, training and technical assistance in the fight against CWD. In addition, Feingold points out, the 2003 agricultural appropriations bill pending in the Senate contains $15.9 million for CWD. He is expected to introduce legislation this week that would expand testing capabilities.

That's not all for Wisconsin, of course, but then this isn't just a state fight. When CWD was discovered in the state this year, it was the first time the disease had appeared east of the Mississippi. If it is not stopped here, how long before it spreads to Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, upstate New York?

Increasing the federal commitment to fighting CWD is critical. The federal glacier is moving, but right now it's only inching forward. If Thompson and McCallum don't have the clout to get more federal aid, maybe it's time to start getting the attention of officials and voters in the more populous states south and east of here. Perhaps together, they can finally bring home to the administration the danger that chronic wasting disease poses to the entire country.

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