U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling on the federal government to step up its response to the infestation of New World screwworm in Florida.
Federal officials confirmed earlier this week that the flesh-eating parasite had been found in a stray dog near Homestead, Florida. It’s the first time in more than 30 years that the screwworm has been found on Florida’s mainland. And Nelson says that if state and federal wildlife officials don’t act quickly, Florida’s nearly $1 billion cattle industry could soon be at risk.
“If we don’t move aggressively to halt the spread of this dangerous pest, the result could be catastrophic for Florida’s wildlife and livestock industry,” Nelson wrote in a letter sent today to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “More than 130 endangered Key deer have already fallen victim to the screwworm. We cannot allow the white-tailed deer population, or the endangered Florida panther, or Florida’s nearly $1 billion beef industry to collapse too.”
Nelson says he wants the federal government to provide additional funding to better monitor and contain the screwworms’ spread.
Below is the full text of Nelson’s letter to Vilsack and Jewell:
January 11, 2017
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20240
The Honorable Sally Jewell
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Jewell,
I’m writing to request your immediate assistance regarding the ongoing New World screwworm infestation in Florida, the first local infestation in the United States in more than 30 years.
This week, the presence of screwworm was detected on a stray dog in Homestead, Florida, marking the first confirmed case on the mainland. If we don’t move aggressively to halt the spread of this dangerous pest, the result could be catastrophic for Florida’s wildlife and livestock industry.
More than 130 endangered Key deer have already fallen victim to the screwworm. We cannot allow the white-tailed deer population, or the endangered Florida panther, or Florida’s nearly $1 billion beef industry to collapse too.
I understand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are coordinating with the state on monitoring activities and treatment efforts, including the release of at least 80 million sterile flies in the Keys since the outbreak began. These response actions should be immediately implemented on the mainland and expanded to reflect the additional threats posed by the location of the first detection.
Homestead, Florida, is bordered by agricultural and environmentally sensitive landscapes like Everglades National Park that make detection and eradication even more difficult. That’s why I strongly encourage you to provide the necessary funding to increase monitoring of wildlife in these areas and begin contingency planning for containing this threat.
Further, I urge you to provide agency resources to increase sterile fly releases in appropriate areas, since this remains the most effective method of controlling the spread of screwworm. In your response to this letter, please explain any additional unmet funding needs that are necessary to quickly and thoroughly contain and eliminate the screwworm infestation in Florida.
Thank you for your attention to this serious and urgent matter.
A .pdf copy of Nelson’s letter is available here.