Potential Economic Impacts of Chronic Wasting Disease Difficult to Calculate but Ranges in Millions of Dollars

A Colorado State University Cooperative Extension review of research has identified possible costs of chronic wasting disease on the national economy that tally up to $100 billion, taking into account the impact on several industries such as annual expenditures by big-game hunters and wildlife watchers.

The research review also calculates the impact of the disease by considering government costs to research, monitor and manage the disease; trade restrictions imposed because of the disease; possible impact on consumer demand; and impacts of farm-raised big game businesses, in addition to lost revenue to businesses and communities due to a possible decrease in hunting and wildlife watching.

"Estimating the current or potential economic implications of chronic wasting disease is difficult," said Andy Seidl, Colorado State agricultural and resource economics associate professor and Cooperative Extension specialist. "Few scientific studies have been done to date on the economic impacts of the disease. We looked at economic research on related subjects and applied it to the economic issues surrounding chronic wasting disease."

Land values – both private and public – are greatly impacted by wildlife habitat and presence because of the opportunities wildlife present for recreation, photography and other outdoor related activities, Seidl said.  

Research points to more than 66 million people who spent $38.5 billion to participate in wildlife watching in 2001.

The survey also tallied more than 10.9 million hunters who spent 153 million days hunting big game in the United States in 2001, according to data from the federal government. That year, deer hunters accounted for almost 10.3 million, or 94 percent, of all big-game hunters, and spent 133 million days hunting, accounting for 87 percent of the total hunting days for all big game. Eight percent of all big game hunters, or 910,000, targeted elk and spent 6.4 million days hunting.

The same data included information from 10 million big game hunters who reported spending more than $10 billion on equipment and trip-related expenses. In fact, big-game hunters averaged $1,013 each in hunting-related spending.

When these results were compared to survey results from previous years dating to 1991, Seidl said that there was little indication that chronic wasting disease was currently impacting hunting. However, localized results may indicate regional impacts, such as economic implications in Wisconsin, where hunting is a large recreational draw. There, spending from hunting was expected to fall by $48 million in 2002 because of the presence of chronic wasting disease in the state.

The value of elk raised in farms in the U.S. is estimated to be at $220 million in 2003. Disease spread models indicate that almost the entire captive elk inventory is at risk of contracting chronic wasting disease. Captive deer have not contracted the disease unless the animals have been in contact with infected captive elk. If captive herds are depopulated due to a disease outbreak, the government has an indemnity liability of up to $2.85 million for just 1 percent of the total captive elk inventory in the nation.

"Little direct information is available on the current and potential economic implications of chronic wasting disease," said Seidl. "But the potential losses to the economy, hunting industry, farm-raised big-game industry and government are significant. The economic impacts of the disease will also affect other areas such as the costs of restricted trade, research, surveillance and regulatory enforcement."

For more information about chronic wasting disease, visit the following links to policy reports written by Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

Economic Implications of Chronic Wasting Disease:


Chronic Wasting Disease: Government and Private Sector Action http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/extension/apr03-06.pdf

Chronic Wasting Disease and Theories of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy Transmission: http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/extension/apr03-05.pdf

Chronic Wasting Disease Overview: Hunter Information: http://dare.agsci.colostate.edu/extension/apr03-04.pdf


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