Legislature(2017 - 2018)BARNES 124
03/27/2018 06:30 PM RESOURCES
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HCR 23-PROTECT WILDLIFE FROM FOREIGN PATHOGENS 7:24:54 PM CO-CHAIR TARR announced that the next order of business would be HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 23, Supporting enhanced efforts to protect wildlife and domestic animals in the state from infectious diseases, foreign pathogens, and nonendemic parasites. CO-CHAIR TARR noted public testimony on HCR 23 was closed at the resolution's last hearing and that testimony at tonight's hearing would be invited testimony only. 7:25:59 PM CO-CHAIR TARR moved to adopt Amendment 1. REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON requested the committee hear from the state veterinarian or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) before taking up amendments. CO-CHAIR TARR withdrew the motion to adopt Amendment 1. 7:26:57 PM REPRESENTATIVE JOHNSON requested Dr. Gerlach to provide an overview of how he, as the state veterinarian, fills his responsibility to manage [Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae (M. ovi), a respiratory pathogen of wild and domestic sheep and goats]. She further asked what Dr. Gerlach thinks lawmakers should do. ROBERT GERLACH, DVM, State Veterinarian, Division of Environmental Health, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), replied the responsibility of the Office of the State Veterinarian is to maintain animal health and to control issues such as outbreak of disease that would threaten populations of animals and to move forward in reducing that threat. He added that this authority is spread over both wild and domestic animals that are living as well as dead. DR. GERLACH stressed that M. ovi is a very complicated issue. The [current] general understanding, he explained, is from the issues and events that have happened in the Lower 48 with a different population of animals that are under different stressors than is had in Alaska's population. With the current concern, his office began a surveillance program in domestic animals to determine the prevalence of the pathogen in Alaska's domestic sheep and goats. His office is working with producers to understand how they manage their herds and flocks for bio- security of their health to prevent introduction and spread of disease. At the same time, he continued, ADF&G began a study looking at the many different Mycoplasma species - including M. ovi - and those test results detected M. ovi in [wild] sheep and goats throughout the state. DR. GERLACH said his office and ADF&G are working to understand how the strains in wild populations and the strains in domestic livestock are related. Next is to understand the implications of that and whether there is any stress to Alaska's wild or domestic animals. His office and ADF&G are currently in the early stages of that finding, he continued, but the good news is that at this time ADF&G hasn't detected any negative impacts in the [wild] populations in which the M. ovi was found. The same has occurred with the domestic population where the prevalence of M. ovi is about 4 percent. The prevalence in wildlife is yet to be determined, but early indications are between 9 and 12 percent of the individual population, but not many animals overall have been tested. There are about 1,000 more samples that ADF&G has collected and sent for analysis, he added, and these will provide further information on this particular pathogen and help in understanding what the threats are, what threats are of concern, if any, and what actions can be taken besides the direct action that is being worked on with producers to decrease wild and domestic stock interaction. He pointed out the concern isn't just M. ovi - many pathogens can be spread between wildlife and domestic animals. 7:31:59 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER observed from an ADF&G document that ADF&G has detected nine more cases of M. ovi in Dall sheep. He inquired how the state veterinarian's office is or is not interacting with ADFG. DR. GERLACH responded that test findings are being shared between the wildlife biologist and wildlife veterinarian in ADF&G and the director in his office, as well as the interpretation of that data. 7:33:54 PM CO-CHAIR TARR observed a 3/20/18 press release states that new findings suggest the pathogen is more widespread and that three strains have been identified in preliminary analysis. She offered her understanding that there is more concern about the M. ovi, but asked whether there is concern about the other strains identified or if it is still too early to know. DR. GERLACH answered that an understanding of this is still at the very early stages. Multiple strains of M. ovi have been identified, he said, as well as some detection of other Mycoplasma, such as Mycoplasma conjunctiva and a Mycoplasma conjunctiva-like organism, along with others that are still yet to be identified. The difference between what is being seen in Alaska compared to the Lower 48 is that the Lower 48 has had sporadic die-offs and mortality events for the past 40-50 years in bighorn sheep that have been studied for this. Only recently has M. ovi been identified as a primary pathogen in this disease process. In that regard, he continued, it is very difficult to look at and to understand all that is involved with respect to the current findings in Alaska. 7:35:58 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER, referring to the map provided in the committee packet, observed that the areas with positive M. ovi test results go all the way up to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and nearly as far south as Seward, as well as in Game Management Unit 13, and "below Tok, going out to the Canadian border." Given how large of an area this is, he requested Dr. Gerlach to provide his opinion as to how widespread this pathogen really is. DR. GERLACH replied the identification of such widespread distribution from the Brooks Range to the Kenai Peninsula requires looking at alternative understandings of the initial identification of this organism as non-endemic. There isn't a lot of interaction with livestock in some of these far-reaching populations and there aren't very close connections between some of these populations, like the ones on the North Slope and the other populations identified. So, he said, from a scientific standpoint there must be a questioning of how to interpret and understand this new information. DR. GERLACH stated it is going to be very important to test this species that may then be able to carry and distribute this pathogen, and that gets down to more basic scientific understanding of the pathogen. Initially it was understood that it was just carried by Caprinae sheep, goats, muskoxen. But, he continued, if other species could carry this and be a vector, then maybe that is how the pathogen was transmitted and interacting through these widespread populations. Or, he said, maybe this is a different strain of a pathogen or bacteria in the wild population and it is unknown for how long. While that may seem unlikely, he noted, he thinks it is something that needs to be considered to understand what is going on here. DR. GERLACH offered his belief that the information ADF&G has gathered with this very important study is going to be groundbreaking in the understanding of this particular pathogen, the interaction now between wildlife and domestic animals, and how to deal with these interactions and the possible transmission of pathogens between the two groups. 7:40:21 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER recalled that previous discussions were looking at roughly 4 percent on the domestic side and 4 percent on the wildlife side as far as those that may have M. ovi. Given the new information, he inquired whether this could be the tip of an iceberg. DR. GERLACH responded it is very possible. An understanding of some of these pathogens, he explained, is that their prevalence can be dependent on the overall population density of the animals. In an animal population that is widespread and not concentrated, there may be less chance for that pathogen to be spread among those animals if direct contact is needed, and so there would be low prevalence. That would be reflective of what is seen with [Alaska's] domestic animals, because in larger herds or flocks in the Lower 48 there is a larger prevalence, which has been noted by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) studies. The populations in Alaska are smaller and widespread and have a lower incidence, which supports that theory. DR. GERLACH added that as ADF&G does more testing and evaluation of wildlife it may be found that the prevalence of the M. ovi is less in certain areas where the populations are widespread or there aren't congregation points where the pathogen can be spread. He described it as being similar to what is seen when children are healthy and running around the house but once school starts they are in close connection in a schoolroom and one person with a cold virus spreads it to the others who then bring it home to their families. So, he continued, it is a density issue with respect to interaction and the ability to spread that pathogen and then the overall prevalence. 7:42:45 PM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH asked whether more [test] results would be coming in next week. DR. GERLACH explained the lab processes the tests in batches, so there can be a slow trickle or lumps of information at a time returned to ADF&G depending on the workload at the laboratories. The process can be slower than some diagnostic laboratories, he said, because after the initial test is run the actual DNA material from the pathogen is collected and sent off to another laboratory where it is genetically sequenced to identify the specific strain of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. REPRESENTATIVE PARISH inquired whether, after receiving a few genetic sequences, single nucleotide polymorphisms will be used to estimate how closely related these various strains are and how long they have been present in Alaska's game populations. DR. GERLACH replied that that is exactly what the scientists working on this hope to identify. They will set up a phylogeny tree to look at relatedness between those. Then they may look at specific gene points for changes or mutations in those gene points to make predictions about how long they may have been in the population, which would give a better idea of the biology of this particular pathogen. REPRESENTATIVE PARISH said he looks forward to getting an update on that and, if possible, to learning where the source ultimately came from in broad terms, such as from another wild goat or sheep population in the Lower 48 or from domestic stock. DR. GERLACH responded that result is definitely what ADF&G hopes to obtain in its important work to understand this particular pathogen and its effect on wildlife and domestic populations. 7:46:21 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH noted that no Dall sheep or mountain goats have died from this affliction. He observed from the map that a couple of the animals were east of Prudhoe Bay and maybe east of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on the North Slope. He asked whether Dr. Gerlach has any ideas given this doesn't seem to be an area where there would be many domesticated [animals] that could have impacted this population. DR. GERLACH agreed and added that it looks like this is a very isolated population. He said it will be interesting to see how the strain of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae that is identified in those particular animals relates back to different groups whether it is different than the group from GMU 26B and GMU 26C and if that is different from what is found in GMU 13. There is much to learn, he continued, including the impact and negative response on a wildlife population and whether there is time to gather and understand this to make appropriate decisions in management. He said it is much easier for him to control and manage a domestic population that is confined and easy to identify and regulate. But management is very complicated when dealing with wildlife where oftentimes populations cannot be totally identified and can be very widespread. He offered his appreciation to ADF&G biologists for their work. 7:48:51 PM CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON inquired whether there are strains of M. ovi that are fatal to wild, but not domestic, animals. DR. GERLACH explained that different strains of M. ovi seem to have different virulence factors that make them more likely to cause respiratory infection given the right combination. This respiratory disease is very complex in regard to how it exhibits itself in both wild and domestic animals. Generally a specific set of factors is needed with the mycoplasma as well as other respiratory pathogens present and oftentimes other stressors on the animal's condition, he said. The stressor can be related to genetic susceptibility, population density, nutrition, and to animal concentrations, access to water, and other resources. It makes it very difficult to go ahead since not much is known about this pathogen with respect to other pathogens. For example, Dr. Gerlach continued, the Pasteurella bacteria has been studied for 40-100 years in both wild and domestic animals. Certain genes have been identified on these Pasteurella that produce certain toxins. One known gene produces toxins that affect the white blood cells and these strains are much more virulent and deadly to animals than the strains that do not have those lipotoxin genes. Not much is known about the whole genomic structure of these mycoplasma, he noted, and this is one reason why ADF&G's study is so critical to understanding and to future management of both the wild and domestic populations. 7:51:33 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER referred to page 2, first bullet, of the document provided by the Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation, which states that M. ovi is a foreign pathogen not endemic to Alaska wildlife. He asked whether it's possible there is an M. ovi that is endemic to Alaskan wildlife. DR GERLACH answered he thinks that needs to be considered given the recent identification in remote populations. It needs to be tested in a scientific manner to be able to prove that point. He said it's important to make management decisions for both domestic and wild populations based on fact in science and to not be swayed by fear and emotion. The focus needs to be on what is had at hand and what the understanding is. That is not say there is a guarantee, he added, because no can give a guarantee on dealing with any disease or medical condition as there is always a number of factors involved. By looking at what the impact on the population is now and closely monitoring them, he continued, management decisions can be made that are going to be most effective to the population without causing undue harm or damage to the overall use of that wildlife and domestic resource for the residents of the state of Alaska. 7:53:39 PM REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO asked whether Dr. Gerlach is reasonably confident that the strain or strains will be identified in the very near future. DR. GERLACH replied that strain typing is being done on just one portion of the entire genome or DNA sequence of Mycoplasma ovipneumoniae, so there will be limitations and restrictions in understanding the strain according to that. The only true evaluation of strains occurs when there is whole genomic sequencing and that probably won't happen any time soon. For example, he explained, it was not too long ago that the human genome was totally sequenced, and this took over 10 years of very intense research. Given the understanding of specific portions of the genomic sequence of the M. ovi, he said, experts in this field should be able to make some very good predictions by looking at those comparisons and getting a better understanding of the relatedness to them and the possibility of how long they may have been circulating in these populations. 7:56:03 PM CO-CHAIR TARR moved to adopt Amendment 1, labeled 30-LS1434\A.1, Gardner, 3/21/18, which read: Page 1, line 6, following the first occurrence of "the": Insert "livestock and" Page 1, line 13, following "science-based": Insert "livestock and" Page 2, line 2, following "to": Insert "domestic animals and" REPRESENTATIVE PARISH objected for purposes of discussion. 7:57:03 PM CO-CHAIR TARR explained the amendments she is offering to the committee came through working with the Alaska Farm Bureau, Inc. and trying to strike the right balance between the concerns and the potential for growth in Alaska's livestock industry. She noted the title of HCR 23 states, "Supporting enhanced efforts to protect wildlife and domestic animals". However, she continued, domestic animals are not referenced in the WHEREAS clauses. Amendment 1 would add "livestock and" in two places and ["domestic animals and" in one place]. This would ensure that both wild and domestic animals are referenced, she said. 7:58:16 PM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH stated he has some trouble with the proposed language of Amendment 1 because he believes the language in the bill on page 2, lines 4-8, and the WHEREAS clause following those lines gets to the purpose of the title. To the specific changes proposed by Amendment 1, he said the bill's present language reads true and stands well on its own. While he personally recognizes the value of domestic animals, he stated, he has trouble diluting the message in this way. Additionally, he continued, he isn't sure it's completely true that the state subscribes to science-based livestock management because fundamentally the entity that manages livestock is private individuals and not the state. Private individuals manage livestock, he added, while wildlife is a common possession that belongs to every Alaskan and it is very appropriate the state manage wildlife in common. 8:00:41 PM REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO stated the title of the resolution does refer to both wildlife and domestic animals, but beyond that there is no mention of livestock or domestic animals. It is his dream, he said, that as things advance forward everyone comes to the table to deal with this. Based on his conversations with people on both sides of the issue, he said, it is appropriate there not be a disconnect at any point in the resolution. He doesn't want to see a big divide, he continued, and he supports Amendment 1 because the proposed language is appropriate. REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER said he isn't speaking for or against Amendment 1, but noted the definition of "intrinsic" is eradicable and he is wondering how that fits. CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON agreed with Representative Parish's points. 8:03:19 PM CO-CHAIR TARR pointed out the state is involved any time that livestock is imported into Alaska and strict safeguards are in place. REPRESENTATIVE PARISH maintained his objection to Amendment 1. 8:03:38 PM A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Rauscher, Talerico, Lincoln, Drummond, Birch, Johnson, and Tarr voted in favor of Amendment 1. Representatives Parish and Josephson voted against it. Therefore, Amendment 1 was adopted by a vote of 7-2. 8:04:49 PM CO-CHAIR TARR moved to adopt Amendment 2, labeled 30-LS1434\A.2, Gardner, 3/21/18, which read: Page 1, following line 9: Insert a new resolution clause to read: "WHEREAS Alaska's livestock industry has the greatest potential to provide protein for Alaska's food security; and" REPRESENTATIVE PARISH objected. 8:04:58 PM CO-CHAIR TARR explained that Amendment 2 also came up in her talks with agriculture folks. She reminded members of the enthusiasm it has heard this session specifically for livestock production and noted the budget is being looked at to fund a veterinarian in the Division of Agriculture so the division can do more in that area. CO-CHAIR TARR moved to adopt a friendly amendment to Amendment 2 as follows: Delete "the greatest" Insert "great" CO-CHAIR TARR explained this friendly amendment would be more accurate and is an effort toward bringing everyone together on this issue. There being no objection, the friendly amendment to Amendment 2 was adopted. Amendment 2, as amended, read as follows: WHEREAS Alaska's livestock industry has great potential to provide protein for Alaska' food security, and 8:06:14 PM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH stated that the effort throughout [HCR 23] is to pair domestic and wildlife and therefore it would seem appropriate to have some nod to the importance of wild game as a protein source. However, he continued, he doesn't have language drafted to that effect and he doesn't intend to conceptually amend Amendment 2. He offered his appreciation for the friendly amendment and withdrew his objection to Amendment 2. 8:06:55 PM CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON objected to Amendment 2, as amended. He said he is concerned because the overwhelming support he has received was for the resolution as previously written (80 for, 5 against). The support was almost entirely from people concerned about wild sheep populations, he continued, and he is afraid the committee has already lost track of that. Were it another state where there was a robust industry of domestic husbandry of animals he would view this differently and certainly the economy and politics of it would be different. The impetus for HCR 23, he explained, was a real concern for what had happened to wild populations in the Western states and the amendment takes this away from the resolution. It is arguably a true statement standing alone, he said, but it takes the resolution further away from what was supposed to be principally, but not entirely, on infectious diseases in wildlife. 8:08:27 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH agreed with Co-Chair Josephson, sponsor of HCR 23. He said Amendment 2, as amended, takes away from the emphasis. The emphasis and focus of the resolution have been on the wildlife resources more than the domestics, he said, and he will vote no on the amendment. 8:09:12 PM CO-CHAIR TARR offered her closing comments on Amendment 2, as amended. If this gets pushed in the direction of one resource over the other, she said, her concern is the history that brought this conversation to the committee, which was an attempt to eliminate the livestock industry from Alaska as a result of concerns. Many things happened at the Board of Game and a working group was formed. She said she wants it to be clear from her perspective that there is a way to do science-based management that can protect both the state's wildlife and domestic animals and allow for growth in this segment of the state's agriculture industry at a time when it is really needed for food security as well as economic opportunity. There is concern from the agriculture side of things, she noted, that these positive test results are not well understood and not clear on where the exposure occurred or how long ago. So far a lot of the pressure has been in the direction of it being a more recent interaction with a domestic animal, but it was heard from the scientists that there is no real evidence of that. She said for these reasons she wants to strive for balance. While the concern is real, she added, it overwhelms the opportunity for livestock folks. 8:11:16 PM REPRESENTATIVE RAUSCHER commented that with everything he has been reading and with more information to come forward next week, his thought is that more questions should be asked before going further. 8:11:55 PM CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON maintained his objection. A roll call vote was taken. Representatives Johnson, Drummond, and Tarr voted in favor of Amendment 2, as amended. Representatives Talerico, Lincoln, Parish, Birch, Rauscher, and Josephson voted against it. Therefore, Amendment 2, as amended, failed by a vote of 3-6. 8:13:20 PM CO-CHAIR TARR stated she would not offer Amendment 3. 8:13:23 PM CO-CHAIR TARR moved to adopt Amendment 4, labeled 30-LS1434\A.4, Gardner, 3/21/18, which read: Page 2, lines 9 - 11: Delete all material and insert: "BE IT RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature encourages agencies to gather information, perform tests, and collect data on infectious diseases, foreign pathogens, and nonendemic parasites in the state to make science-based management decisions to protect the state's wildlife and domestic animals from infectious diseases, foreign pathogens, and nonendemic parasites; and be it" CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON objected to Amendment 4 for purposes of discussion. 8:13:33 PM CO-CHAIR TARR explained Amendment 4 has the same basic thought as the original bill language, but is a bit more descriptive in that it is more specific in what the enhanced efforts might be. She said it also suggests support for doing the testing, which was brought forward as something the [Alaska] Wild Sheep Foundation supports. The key thing here, she added, is the gathering of information and performing of tests to ensure there aren't inaccurate suggestions about the prevalence of this particular pathogen, its origin, and its potential to cause problems in Alaska's wild populations. 8:15:15 PM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH stated his concern with Amendment 4 is that it doesn't speak to preventative measures. For example, he said, he would like to see better buffers between wild populations and domestic populations for many of the same reasons that he is very dubious of fish farming. He wouldn't want to wait necessarily for information to be gathered, tests to be performed, and data collected before saying don't put a fish farm near his backyard. He maintained that Amendment 4 narrows the scope of what goes into protection. CO-CHAIR TARR offered her appreciation for Representative Parish's concern but said that that is not the intention. The intention is to be more descriptive in terms of what things need to be done. There is strong support for the testing and the data collection, she continued, particularly to understand the distribution and prevalence in the different populations. She suggested a friendly amendment could be offered that says something such as "perform tests, collect data, and consider preventative measures". REPRESENTATIVE PARISH said he would defer to Co-Chair Josephson or Representative Lincoln. 8:17:26 PM CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON said his concern with Amendment 4 is the deletion of lines 9-11 because of the loss of the notions that were mentioned by Representative Parish about the need to protect the state's wildlife as well. He could support the amendment, he continued, if it were in addition to lines 9-11. CO-CHAIR TARR related that Representative Lincoln pointed out that the language on page 2, line 17, talks about engaging actions to prevent the spread of those diseases. She asked whether Co-Chair Josephson would like to offer a friendly amendment that would delete the language "Page 2, lines 9-11: Delete all material and insert" and replace it with "Page 2, following lines 9-11 insert". CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON deferred to Representative Drummond. 8:18:42 PM REPRESENTATIVE DRUMMOND said everything that is in lines 9-11 is included in Amendment 4 except for the words "supports enhanced efforts". The scope of management certainly includes prevention efforts, she continued. Except for the lack of the word "enhanced" efforts this is a good amendment, she added, and this is just an adjective that says, "Get to work guys". The resolution is telling the agencies what they need to be doing and this amendment enhances that. CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON said Representative Drummond's point is well taken and he no longer seeks Co-Chair Tarr's friendly amendment. 8:20:10 PM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH maintained his objection to Amendment 4. 8:20:21 PM REPRESENTATIVE BIRCH stated the resolution is well intended and the amendment seems fine as well as neutral. He urged that the question be called. 8:21:27 PM REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO moved to adopt a conceptual amendment to Amendment 4 as follows: Line 5, following "science-based management decisions to": Insert "support enhanced efforts to" 8:21:53 PM CO-CHAIR TARR said she considers the conceptual amendment a friendly amendment and has no objection. There being no objection, the conceptual amendment to Amendment 4 was adopted. 8:22:02 PM REPRESENTATIVE PARISH withdrew his objection to Amendment 4. There being no further objection, Amendment 4, as amended, was adopted. 8:22:28 PM CO-CHAIR JOSEPHSON moved to report HCR 23, as amended, out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying fiscal notes. There being no objection, CSHCR 23(RES) was reported out of the House Resources Standing Committee.