Administration Proposes Slashing Critical Federal Funding for Whirling Disease Research
Decision Pulls Rug Out from National Efforts to Combat Disease & Ignores Recent Spread to New Mexico, Yellowstone National Park
2/8/2000 — — Reports of the Administration’s decision to propose slashing $1 million in federal funding to research the spread of whirling disease drew heavy criticism from Trout Unlimited, the nation’s leading coldwater conservation organization today. Whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite, Myxobolus cerebralis, that attacks the cartilage of juvenile trout and salmon. The dramatic impacts of the disease include frenzied tail chasing or “whirling’ by fish when they are feeding or alarmed, skeletal deformities, and heavy mortalities of young fish.
Once considered just a problem in hatcheries, whirling disease became a national crisis in 1994 when researchers discovered that the disease in the Colorado River in Colorado and the Madison River in Montana, where the disease killed up to 90 percent of the wild rainbow trout populations. Since that time, the federal government has spearheaded a public-private partnership to understand how the disease operates in the wild and how it can be stopped.
“The Administration’s proposal to slash federal research funding makes no sense,” stated TU president, Charles Gauvin. The Administration has actually supported spending these same funds for this program the past several years. The proposal ignores the extensive damage the disease has caused as it has spread through some of our nation’s finest rivers and fisheries. How can the Administration pull the rug out underneath states battling whirling disease as we watch it continue to spread? In the last year, the parasitic infection arrived as an unwelcome guest in New Mexico and Yellowstone National Park and has already taken an incredible toll on some Montana and Colorado trout steams. The Administration’s budget contains a number of items in other programs that will help trout and salmon. This one hurts.
The Administration’s decision came on the heels of the 6th Annual Whirling Disease Symposium concluded Friday, February 4th, in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. The event was jointly sponsored by Trout Unlimited, the Whirling Disease Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Ironically, the Idaho symposium was celebrating the fact that research efforts were the key to arming states with critical information necessary to implement new management strategies to curb the spread and devastation of the parasite,” said Marshall Bloom, TU advisor and Chairman of the Montana Whirling Disease task force. “If these federal funds disappear it will be virtually impossible to implement these new management strategies and evaluate their efficiency.”
In 1999, Trout Unlimited published a comprehensive report on “Whirling Disease in the United States” (available at www.tu.org) detailing the parasitic infection that has been linked to the dramatic declines in wild trout populations in several Western rivers. To date Trout Unlimited has raised and dedicated $250,000 and countless volunteer hours to fight the spread of whirling disease which has been found in 22 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming and Arizona.
An especially harmful element of the proposal is to eliminate the $700,000 National Partnership of Management of Wild and Native Cold Water Fisheries program at Montana State University. The “Partnership” funding allowed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey to make competitive grants for public and private research into the prevention, control and eradication of whirling disease.
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is America’s leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. TU’s 100,000 members in 455 chapters nationwide are dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds.