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Chronic wasting disease could affect state hunting

by Bryan Hendricks | October 4, 2015 at 5:09 a.m.

Despite heroic efforts to keep chronic wasting disease out of Arkansas, its appearance is probably inevitable, according to our state's chief deer biologist.

If that happens, all the progress we've made managing deer in this state will be ruined. The 3-point rule is out the window. Quality deer management is out the window. The focus will will shift from quality management to disease management, which is primarily eradication and containment.

Cory Gray, the deer program leader for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, gave this stark assessment to the commission Sept. 23 during its monthly work meeting in Little Rock.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disorder that affects whitetailed deer, elk and other cervids. It is caused by mutated proteins that degenerate the central nervous system. It is always fatal, highly transmittable and cannot be killed or neutralized with drugs or vaccines.

CWD first appeared in the West, but it has spread east to New York, Pennsylvania, the Virginias and Maryland. It has also been found in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas. In all, CWD has been found in captive cervid populations in 14 states and two Canadian provinces. Seventeen states and two provinces contain areas with CWD infected populations.

The rapid spread of the disease is attributable to captive deer breeders and commercial hunt facility operators transporting infected deer to new areas, Gray said. It is illegal to transport a deer into Arkansas from a state where CWD has been documented, including dead deer unless the meat has been processed and the skulls have been converted to taxidermy before they entered the state.

Troy Landry, star of the Swamp People television show, was cited in 2012 for transporting deer in Arkansas that he and his sons killed in Nebraska.

We once believed that deer could only pass CWD directly to other deer. Apparently that's not true. New research from Texas shows that plants have the ability to uptake, store and transmit CWD to a deer that eats infected plants. If a CWD-positive deer urinates on an alfalfa patch, a different deer that eats that alfalfa may contract CWD, Gray said.

Bottled deer urine could be a vector, too. Hunters use deer urine as attractants and cover scents. Most of those products come from out of state and could contain CWD, Gray said. The commission might consider banning the sale of deer urine in Arkansas as a proactive measure, he added.

CWD can also be transmitted through deer saliva deposited on mineral licks and on game feeders, which deer often lick for salt and sugar. It could also be transmitted through hay imported into Arkansas from a CWD-positive area.

Infected deer inside fences are believed to have transmitted CWD to deer outside of fences by licking fence material that deer outside those fences lick, as well, Gray said. To avoid that, he said the commission might consider requiring double fences to prevent contact between captive and non-captive deer.

If detected in Arkansas, CWD could have devastating effects on deer, but also on the Arkansas hunting culture.

"When Wisconsin detected CWD in 2002, hunting license sales plummeted," Gray said. "They're still two percent down. That's 40,000 individuals that are lost to hunting."

At the same time, Wisconsin has spent $49 million fighting CWD since 2002, Gray said.

Draconian measures activated by a CWD-positive deer or carcass would affect non-hunting segments of the economy. For example, Arkansas's CWD response plan prohibits an infected deer killed by a hunter from being transported out of the county where it was killed. That would affect the taxidermy business and the meat processing business. It would probably ruin the hunting economy in that county, as well as in adjacent counties.

Dr. Steven Beaupre is the new ex-officio member of the AGFC. A native of southern Wisconsin, he said the AGFC should spare no effort in keeping CWD out of Arkansas.

"Once an invasive species gets a foothold, there is no stopping it," Beaupre said. "We should not let a single deer cross into this state unless it walks in by itself."

Remember that elk are vulnerable to CWD, too. Mike Knoedl, the AGFC's director, said that if CWD is detected in a wild elk in the Buffalo River area, the entire herd will have to be eradicated, and it won't be reestablished.

Sports on 10/04/2015

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