AUBURN, Ala. – Kelly Dunning, a researcher and professor at Auburn University’s School of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment, is exploring the varied policy responses to chronic wasting disease, or CWD, across states through the Lone Mountain Fellowship in Property and Environment Research. Center in Bozeman, Montana.
Chronic wasting disease is spreading across the US in herds of free-ranging white-tailed deer, elk, and elk. Dunning believes their arrival in a pack could cause a backlash among hunters, negatively impacting hunting license sales, conservation funding, outdoor heritage and traditions, and livelihoods. and the well-being of rural communities.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has put significant attention on zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from wildlife to humans,” Dunning said. “It’s not clear if chronic wasting disease can be transmitted in this way, but the consequences for the North American model of wildlife conservation would be dire.”
According to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the North American Wildlife Conservation Model is one of the world’s most successful systems of policy and law for restoring and safeguarding fish and wildlife and their habitats through through sound science and active stewardship.
Given the high-risk nature of the CWD problem, researchers are beginning to study public knowledge and perception of CWD, including actions hunters can take that could jeopardize conservation.
“There has been no investigation into the governance of CWD,” Dunning said. “Currently there are around 30 states managing CWD in their herds and there has been no analysis on governance responses.”
Dunning’s goal is to fill this gap by conducting a comparative analysis of CWD governance across states with free-ranging deer herds by working with a collaborative team that includes Stephen Ditchkoff, distinguished professor of ecology and wildlife management William R. and Fay Ireland; Will Gulsby, associate professor of wildlife management; doctoral student Catherine Cummings; Master’s student in Natural Resources Vincent Rivers; Undergraduate Research Fellow Caroline Ward; and university researcher Reese Stogner.
Their findings could be used by fish and wildlife decision makers to understand who is enacting what responses to CWD, and to learn about regional patterns in responses to CWD.
Dunning plans to co-author a scientific study examining the governance of chronic wasting disease and how governance varies across states and regions. His research is an innovative cross between biology and political science.
“Dunning’s exploration of wildlife disease governance will help inform conservation decision-making,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment. “This may have an impact on the governance of chronic wasting disease and other wildlife diseases.”