Legislature(2017 - 2018)BUTROVICH 205
04/16/2018 03:30 PM RESOURCES
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CSHCR 23(RES)-PROTECT WILDLIFE FROM FOREIGN PATHOGENS 4:34:18 PM CHAIR GIESSEL announced consideration of HCR 23. [CSHCR 23(RES) was before the committee.] 4:34:42 PM REPRESENTATIVE ANDY JOSEPHSON, Alaska State Legislature, Juneau, Alaska, sponsor of HCR 23, explained that the impetus for this resolution came from concerns with the Micoplasma Ovipneumoniae (M.Ovi) bacteria, which has been identified in the last 30-40 days, principally in Unit 15 on the Kenai Peninsula and Unit 13 in the MatSu area, as having infected goats and sheep. It has also been identified elsewhere. There are many strains of M.OVI and the department is doing the technical and laboratory work to find out which strain this is. He explained that the response to the M.Ovi issue has been "pretty dramatic." This resolution has received in the neighborhood of 100-plus letters of support and a handful in opposition. The concern stems from a catastrophic die-off of big game sheep in the Rocky Mountains, and naturally, big game guides and hunters and others don't want to see that happen here. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON said this resolution was caught up with issues about domestic husbandry and domestic animals. The Board of Game heard a couple of proposals and concluded it didn't have jurisdiction over the matter. The State Veterinarian is very involved and does not oppose the resolution as it is written and wants the state to be vigilant and to keep working on this issue. Some may believe that this has to be an either-or kind of thing, because of alarm over a possible effort to intervene in the putative source of the M.Ovi virus. We don't want to see a die-off of wild game. REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPHSON said language in the second and fifth whereas clauses of the resolution were changed in the House Resources Committee and uses the term "livestock" in a way that he didn't agree with. But when it was argued on the House Floor it was viewed as balanced. Some of the words, particularly on lines 6 and 13 talking about science-based livestock management attributing billions of dollars of economic value to livestock, are not quite accurate. CHAIR GIESSEL thanked him for taking on this issue. She said the State Veterinarian with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was on-line and clarified that the state has lots of state veterinarians. ADF&G has one and the upcoming fiscal year budget contains funding for the incorporation of a new position of veterinarian in the DNR's Division of Agriculture. 4:39:49 PM CHAIR GIESSEL asked for state veterinarian questions. SENATOR STEDMAN asked his opinion of the new finding of some of these diseased animals. 4:40:21 PM ROBERT GERLACH, State Veterinarian, Office of the State Veterinarian, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Anchorage, Alaska, answered that he began a study one year ago when the question of mycoplasma pneumonia was brought up. They started testing livestock, both sheep and goats, across the state to determine the prevalence of this pathogen in domestic livestock. Right now, there is a prevalence rate of about 4-5 percent in domestic livestock. In that same time period, ADF&G also began testing samples for mycoplasma ovipneumoniae in different wildlife species and populations across the state and have been doing surveillance for mycoplasma bacteria in wildlife for a number of years and just now instituted a stronger push toward a different testing method for it. Several press releases on the findings on the wild sheep and goats across the state have been put out. It has been found wild populations in the Kenai Peninsula and up northeast of the Brooks Range. SENATOR COGHILL thanked him for his answers. He asked what new things would happen if this resolution passes. MR. GERLACH answered the surveillance and understanding of the presence of this pathogen in both domestic and wild species across the state would continue. But what they don't know, and ADF&G is taking a big step in doing, is not just testing wild sheep or goats but testing other species to see if they are affected by it or if they could be carriers and transmitters. SENATOR COGHILL said he appreciates that and asked if the resolution speeds them along in the right direction. MR. GERLACH answered what DEC and ADF&G have been coordinating work on it and on a number of different diseases, as well like chronic wasting disease surveillance, influenza, rabies, and others, in the same manner. 4:45:03 PM CHAIR GIESSEL noted that language on page 2, lines 1-2, says, "Whereas wildlife of the state is under continuous and increasing threat from foreign pathogens, infectious diseases, and non-endemic parasites..." and asked if he as the DEC State Veterinarian considered M.Ovi pathogen a threat. MR. GERLACH replied from what they know at this time, they see no negative impact of mycoplasma ovipneumoniae in either domestic or wildlife species. So, the identification of this pathogen needs to be further evaluated. The Lower 48 states and Southern British Columbia have totally different situations with respect to the habitat they have for their wild sheep, the amounts of interaction they have, the stressors on those populations, and the overall density of our domestic livestock in comparison to what these other areas have. The two situations are totally different and just because we have the presence of a pathogen doesn't necessarily mean we have the disease or pathology that results from it. He explained that if you went out and picked up some dirt from the ground, a number of different pathogens could get on your hands, but just because they are there doesn't mean you are going to be sick, especially if you take certain precautions and management procedures such as washing hands and other things to prevent it. In this case they have been provided a time period to go ahead and look at the situation, work to understand what the risks are, and then help to institute management changes if they are needed to prevent risk to either domestic or wildlife populations in Alaska. This is a concern for many emerging diseases in the state, not just mycoplasma ovipneumoniae. CHAIR GIESSEL said she appreciated his balanced response. She said Alaska has 25 percent of the wild sheep in North America and it could have a substantial impact on Alaska if the pathogen proves to be deadly. She appreciated the ongoing investigation. 4:48:13 PM CHAIR GIESSEL, finding no further questions, opened public testimony on HCR 23. AMY SEITZ, Executive Director, Alaska Farm Bureau, Soldotna, Alaska, supported HCR 23. She said the Alaska Farm Bureau agrees with the idea of encouraging Alaska's agencies to protect wildlife and domestic animals and appreciates the amendments added in the House Resources Committee stating that the information needs to be gathered in order to make a science- based decision and adding references to domestic animals and livestock to correlate with the title that references both. If this resolution passes, she said it is important to know if the support is for encouraging agencies to gather the information and make science-based management decisions with necessary and prudent measures or if this is a revolution pushing for action. There can be significant differences between these two possible ways of looking at it. Especially since the current M.Ovi issue spurred this resolution on, they believe agencies are taking necessary and prudent steps to gather Alaska-specific information in order to make appropriate actions to minimize the risk of a disease outbreak. MS. SEITZ said that enhancing efforts and taking actions before getting the information to prevent this spread of pathogens can be extreme and not necessarily the right approach. Had actions been taken when this issue first came to Alaska before they had any information, they probably wouldn't have discovered that M.Ovi was already in our wildlife or that it's up in the Brooks Range where it most likely didn't come from a direct contact with domestic animal. So, it's really important to get the information before taking action. She said one of the points that has been brought up is that the requestors want to go M.Ovi-free in the state, and at this point they don't know enough about this pathogen to know how to go M.Ovi-free or if it is even possible. Trying to eradicate a pathogen would be extremely costly to the state and domestic owners. We don't know if M.Ovi is endemic in our wild populations, and there have been indications that other ungulates can be carriers of M.Ovi, so it would be unwise to encourage agencies to take actions before understanding what appropriate action would be. If the sole focus is on regulating domestic sheep and goats, we may end up missing something really important when trying to solve this problem. MS. SEITZ said several other countries that have wild and domestic animals don't seem to be having the same problem that Big Horn Sheep have had. It would be important to find out why and why Alaska has M.OVI in its wild herds, but they still appear to be healthy, and how long it has been in our wild populations. She said the agencies mentioned in this resolution do take necessary and prudent steps to gather information in order to make a science-based decision whether it's M.Ovi, winter tics, or numerous other diseases they monitor. If this resolution passes, they hope it's with the intent to encourage and support the agencies in gathering the facts and science to justify any actions and not as a way of pushing them into action without information. 4:53:09 PM TIANA THOMAS, Mutual Aide Network of Livestock Producers and Consumers, Wasilla, Alaska, said their network receives feed from Delta, sells meats through the Farmers Market, and eggs and milk through Shares. She advised them to be cautious of two words in the resolution: "enhanced" and "catastrophic." In other states, "enhanced" measures include extirpation of any flocks that has a single positive member. In the 2017 Fall issue of the Wild Sheep Foundation Magazine she read an article by Dr. Besser D.V.M. that he is no longer recommending extirpating entire herds. Rather they look to see which animals cannot clear the mycoplasma and it seems that only 10 percent of the Big Horns cannot do that; the rest of them are developing the ability to clear the mycoplasma and becoming disease resistant. She said that domestic animals have had a longer encounter with M.OVI and have much better clearance rates. In fact, out of all the testing that was voluntary on domestics in the state only one animal tested positive on all three nasal swabs and the antibody serum detection. The rest of them had detections but did not have the infection, and they definitely did not have concurrent positive swabs. They are looking at having greater cooperation with the State Veterinarian to develop M.OVI-free source herds for pack goats that would go into Dall Sheep habitat. 4:55:44 PM However, she encouraged members to respect the Alaska and U.S. Constitution and not ask private property citizens what they would never ask of a gun owner, because those the enhanced measures are universal registration, mandatory tests, confiscation and destruction of those that fail the test. Hunters would never be asked that. These are strong-arm tactics that would obstruct and discourage open cooperation going into the future with the State Veterinarian. Further, Ms. Thomas said it would be financially hard for the state to administer and definitely be a hardship for farmers. Mandatory testing on all private properties would double the cost of animals. She supports M.OVI-free source herds for animals that will go out into public lands. 4:57:36 PM MS. THOMAS said the state's food security and access is very important and people currently outnumber caribou. While trophy hunting is a big part of conservation, it takes the pressure off of the young tender tasty breeding age animals. Without a substitution from the domestic sector for those animals as a poaching source, subsistence users could quite easily lose all of their native animals and subsistence sources. She understands that it's hard on guides to follow the natural fluctuating cycles of the Big Horns in the state, but it is also hard on the animals to artificially sustain an elevated density. Drastic crashes and drastic peaks can be smoothed out, but it is not wise to follow enhanced measures to keep an artificially elevated population - although the Big Horn numbers have been increasing wonderfully of the past couple of decades. MS. THOMAS pointed out that pack horses have been exempted from any scrutiny for disease transfer even though confinement studies found that horses and goats have very nearly the same rates of disease transfer. She asked that all animals be included in the resolution, because domestics and wildlife are equally valuable to the residents of the State of Alaska, but those are being managed for the residents and not for the resource itself. CHAIR GIESSEL thanked Ms. Thomas for her testimony and said she appreciated her passion on this subject. She pointed out that the words "domestic animals and wildlife" appear balanced in this resolution and appear with equal frequency. 4:59:47 PM THOR STACEY, lobbyist, Alaska Wild Sheep Foundation, Juneau, Alaska, supported HCR 23. This is a matter of conservation. It has to do with constitutional mandates for sustained yield. Dall sheep, mountain goats, and musk ox are clearly covered in section 8 of the Constitution. He said the Wild Sheep Foundation is mostly composed of hunters, although as with other types of conservation organizations it is aligned in its mission to preserve wildlife for non-consumptive users. However, from a hunter's perspective, this makes an important statement of policy: if there is a disease outbreak in the state, the full cost of that measure would be borne by hunters. Wildlife is clearly supported by hunting licenses and the fees that go to the Division of Wildlife. No general fund monies are used. There is no responsibility at all on the domestic side if an outbreak occurs. This is unlike a forest fire: once the originating party in a fire is identified, that party has the responsibility to indemnify the public for the loss of the forest and to indemnify owners of cabins or property that gets destroyed by this event. In the case of a disease outbreak, Mr. Stacey said there is no responsibility on the person from which the disease outbreak originates. So, they appreciate the effort they put into a pro- active policy that hopefully works to minimize the burden: loss of the resource and the costs ultimately that go to the end users. 5:02:24 PM MR. STACEY said secondly, this resolution brings policy in line with the policies the legislature has put forward on fisheries management to prevent disease transmission from aquaculture, fish farming, ranches, and all series of projects to enhance fisheries. The wild fish are obviously a priority in the state. He said hopefully those changes - adding "livestock" on page 1, lines 6 and 13, where it's not very intuitive how livestock fits in - that are supported by the Farm Bureau and the House represent a collaborative commitment for the agricultural side and the wildlife side to work together on what approach to take. CHAIR GIESSEL, finding no questions, thanked Mr. Stacey for his testimony, and closed public testimony. She commented that Mr. Stacey used the term "collaborative commitment" and that is what she is also hoping for. The discussion has centered around M.OVI, but this is a broad statement about measures to detect the presence of infectious diseases and foreign pathogens. Canada has barred the entry of cows into their country when there was a mad cow outbreak and multiple pathogens exist that could affect our wild stocks. She was pleased that at this point the Division of Agriculture will have its own veterinarians coming on board. 5:05:49 PM SENATOR COGHILL commented that he didn't expect that the enhanced efforts would be as draconian as portrayed, but those efforts deal with both wildlife and domestic animals, and if anything, drastic was happening, the legislature would hear about it. He moved to report CSHCR 23(RES), version 30-LS1434\D, from committee with individual recommendations and attached zero fiscal note(s). There were no objections and it was so ordered.