WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and Congressmen Steny H. Hoyer, Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Jamie Raskin, David Trone, and Glenn Ivey (all D-Md.) announced $665,266 in federal funding to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to control the spread of wildlife diseases. With this federal funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Zoonotic Disease Initiative grant program, Maryland DNR will form a working group for wildlife disease management that will initially focus on the highly contagious avian flu that spread among several poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula last year, resulting in the depopulation of hundreds of thousands of chickens at a loss for local farms. In partnership with the University of Maryland, the working group will increase surveillance of animal species considered to be highly susceptible to current and emerging zoonotic diseases in the Chesapeake Bay region and inform wildlife management and planning at the state and regional level to improve future responses to outbreaks. 

“Diseases like avian flu pose a huge risk to farmers, fisheries, and our economy and food supply. That’s why we fought to secure this federal funding to support our farmers and all those who count on the bounty of the Bay region by helping control and prevent the spread of wildlife disease before it takes a toll on the health of our poultry, livestock, and economy. We will keep working to support initiatives that protect the livelihoods of Maryland’s agricultural communities,” said the lawmakers.

Maryland received funding for the Zoonotic Disease Initiative in response to a series of avian flu outbreaks on poultry farms in the Chesapeake Bay region, including two farms in Cecil County and Queen Anne’s County. The United States is experiencing the worst avian flu outbreak in history, prompting the culling of over 58 million poultry birds nationwide and costing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) more than $670 million in insurance indemnities.

The Zoonotic Disease Initiative, which the lawmakers fought to pass through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, is a grant program focused on wildlife disease prevention and preparedness. The Initiative will provide up to $9 million in available funding to states, Tribes, and territories to strengthen early detection, rapid response, and science-based management research to address wildlife disease outbreaks before they become pandemics. The funding aims to increase organizational readiness and ensure a network of state, Tribal, and territorial wildlife managers across the nation are prepared for zoonotic disease outbreaks.