Application of a Systems Approach for Management of Chronic Wasting Disease in Wisconsin

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Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal neurologic disease of cervids that causes population declines and is increasing in intensity and spatial extent, has proven extremely difficult to manage despite intensive control efforts that have spanned several decades.

Image: White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

White-tailed deer in a field. (Credit: John J. Mosesso, USGS. Public domain.)

CWD is a significant management challenge in part because the etiological agent, an infectious prion, is extremely difficult to destroy, and can be transmitted directly or indirectly. The majority of management interventions to date require altering the host densities which is not universally supported by stakeholders. To successfully manage for this disease, management agencies need approaches that account for the diverse socioeconomic and political pressures surrounding white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and other wild cervid species.   

The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and Ventana Systems, Inc. have recently initiated a project that will use a systems approach to dynamically map the complex relationships between biological, social, and political processes for CWD. Through participatory modeling we will involve stakeholder groups and experts in CWD, social science, and deer and forest health to integrate the wealth of existing knowledge of the system into a map of the system that describes its functioning and the linkages between the ecological and social processes. The final model will then be captured in a “management flight simulator” interface that will allow managers to assess the ecological and social consequences of key management alternatives identified during the mapping process, characterize key uncertainties, determine the optimal management efforts to undertake, and directly inform the WDNR’s CWD planning efforts.