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News Brief

Feb. 19, 2024 |  By: Mark Moran - Public News Service

Wildlife disease measure could benefit IA ag industry

bird counting

By Mark Moran - Public News Service

Wildlife advocates are asking Congress to pass bill that would help states track diseases killing wildlife across the country. In Iowa, the measure would focus on slowing bird flu outbreaks, among other things.

House Resolution 6765 would spend up to $42.5 million a year to help state wildlife experts study and share data on diseases and their spread.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife State Wildlife Veterinarian Colin Gillin said the most recent major avian influenza outbreak is an example of the need.

It's killed hundreds of thousands of birds, including Canadian geese and others.

"We've had raptors that feed on infected birds that have died," said Gillin, "such as bald eagles and a lot of the scavenging birds, vultures."

Gillin - also the vice-chair of the interstate Fish and Wildlife Health Committee - said avian flu has taken aim at the endangered California Condor population.

There are only 350 in the wild and avian flu killed 21 of them last year.

Right now, fewer than three dozen states have programs in place to track disease, and this measure would help grow that number - and states' ability to share information.

This winter, Iowa's poultry industry has lost roughly three million birds to a highly contagious strain of bird flu.

Iowa Wildlife Federation Executive Director Ryan Smith said as one of the nation's largest egg producers, outbreaks like this are having a dramatic effect on livestock farmers - and by extension, consumers.

"When outbreaks occur, it makes those prices go up, and there's nothing to do but basically destroy those animals," said Smith. "This bill is a way to more effectively track those kinds of outbreaks."

The bill would also provide funding to track chronic wasting disease now prevalent in Iowa's large deer population, and white-nose syndrome, an invasive fungus causing record numbers of deaths in bats - which, Smith says, are critical to controlling insect populations.

The measure awaits action in a U.S. House subcommittee.