A large buck (Shutterstock)

CASPER, Wyo —  Former Wyoming Game and Fish Commission member Mike Schmid told Oil City News that his continued opposition to the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan was likely the official reason for his removal from the commission last week.

Schmid served four years on the commission and was part of the CWD working group that drafted the plan, which was approved by the commission last July.

CWD is nervous system disease affecting primarily mule deer and elk and is always fatal. It is caused by a submicroscopic proteins called prions that accumulate in the soil and is very difficult to eradicate. No immunity, recovery, or absolute resistance to CWD has been documented. 

Prevalance has increased in Wyoming and other western regions, leading to concerns about the impact on cervid populations.

WGFD’S plan cites an “unknown but potentially significant level” of reduction on cervid populations from CWD, and thus that action was warranted. A 2019 survey sent to 3,000 hunters, (met with about a one-third response rate), found that a “large majority” agreed “that effort should be taken to reduce the rate of infection in deer.”

The three primary strategies include:

  • reduction of artificial points of host concentration (such as elk feed grounds)
  • hunter harvest management
  • culling from “hot spot” populations. 

“You could shoot holes through all of it,” Schmid said.

“In talking to the experts [during the working group], we were asking a bunch of questions, and 70% of their answers were, ‘We don’t know. We’re not sure yet. We need more research.’

“My point to the commission was, How do we develop a management plan when the experts give us 70% ‘we don’t know’?”

Schmid also felt the plan was too general, adopting many of the same guidelines outlined by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), which includes 26 states and Canadian provinces. Schmid also said that there were no definitive successes in other states’ strategies.

Schmid also proposed a more robust, but complex, tracking program over the course of several years to get a better a picture of how CWD spreads in certain areas.  He said Wyoming had the talent to study the issue on its own rather than relying on the current, inconclusive body of knowledge.

The plan states that no particular strategy would go into effect without input from the public and local wildlife managers, which would ensure that potentially unpopular options like culling 200 large mule deer would only be used as a last resort.

Schmid said he worried that a future commission might move forward with such an option in the absence of robust public input. 

“That’s one of the big problems we have is we never get any public input,” Schmid said. His concern was echoed at the meeting in July by Zachary Keen, who also opposed the plan overall and said he was usually the only member of the public attending Game and Fish meetings.

Furthermore, Schmid worried that the language in the plan committed the commission to action on each of its recommendations. “Who knows who these commissioners are gonna be the next go around? They could have a completely different view so they could go ahead and approve some of this stuff.

Schmid and Keen also agreed that reducing “artificial” points of concentration like elk feed grounds might actually be counterproductive, and that more feedgrounds might spread out populations. Concentrated animal populations is one of the ways CWD spreads more rapidly.

Schmid also said that the CWD threat may be overstated. He said he asked one expert: “In the 70 years we’ve known about this disease, has it ever decimated a big game herd?” He answered. ‘No, it hasn’t.'”

Schmid said in his own research while on the working group, he looked at herd populations in southwest Wisconsin, which he said “is the epicenter of CWT nationwide right now.”

He said in the 20 years of monitoring the herd, their numbers had risen from 60,000 to 270,000.

“That tells me that that’s the game can push their way through it,” Schmid said.

Game and Fish Commission President Pete Dube acknowledged Schmid’s concerns, but said the plan was a “foundational” document that gave the commission the tools and flexibility to respond to CWD. The plan was also endorsed by Brandt Shumaker, state veterinary epidemiologist and University of Wyoming Professor.

Schmid said he sent an email to fellow commissioners before the July meeting pressing them on whether the plan accomplished their goal of managing CWD.

“I sent that email out 31 members. I think I got 16 or 17 responses back. 12 of those agreed with me that we didn’t accomplish much. Three of those people were in the meeting and Rawlins when we approved the CWD management plan, but none of them spoke up. That was the only one spoken against it.”

“I kinda got I kinda got crossways with the commission in leadership when I’ve done that email,” Schmid said.

“My outspoken thoughts and how I carried them out did not sit well with the commission and leadership,” Schmid said in a statement on social media.

“It was also stated that my role as a commissioner and freedoms as an American were too conflicting,” Schmid said. Schmid had posted video of his attendance at the Jan 6 rally in Washington D.C., but was not among the group that stormed the Capitol.