By Jessica Domel
Multimedia Reporter

To prevent the spread of deadly cattle fever ticks into unaffected areas of Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is working with landowners in Zapata County to construct additional cattle fever tick fencing.

In late November, APHIS published its decision on the final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the fencing in South Texas, moving the project forward.

“The proposed fence would prevent re-infestation of areas where the tick has been or is being eliminated,” EIS states.

The eight-foot tall game fencing will be installed along strategic portions of the permanent cattle fever tick quarantine zone in Zapata County.

“There is strong evidence that stray or smuggled livestock from Mexico and free-ranging wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, play a role in the spread of cattle fever ticks,” EIS states. “When these tick-infested animals enter pastures, the effectiveness of ongoing tick eradication measures (vacating pastures and systemic tick treatments for cattle) becomes compromised.”

The first section of the fence will cover two miles and connect to existing eight-foot game fencing parallel to the permanent tick quarantine zone.

“Game fences ultimately contribute another tool toward cattle fever tick eradication and prevention efforts,” according to EIS.

The 17 miles of existing game fencing were installed more than 25 years ago, but as wildlife populations evolved and expanded, they moved into non-infected regions.

If additional funding is available, and there is a need, the fencing may be expanded to cover up to 50 miles in Maverick, Starr and Webb counties.

APHIS is funding the fencing, which is expected to cost around $22,000 per mile. The Texas Animal Health Commission will be responsible for its upkeep.

The majority of the proposed fencing borders U.S. Highway 83, according to APHIS.

Cattle fever ticks can spread bovine babesiosis, a fatal disease with a mortality rate from 70 to 90 percent.

If left unchecked, USDA estimates the cattle industry across the southern U.S. could lose more than a billion dollars annually.