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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reported Tuesday that the prevalence rate of chronic wasting disease in wild whitetailed deer is 23 percent after completing the first phase of testing in north Arkansas.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal condition that affects cervids such as whitetailed deer, elk, mule deer and moose.

To determine the prevalence of the disease among deer, the AGFC took samples March 14-24 within a 125,000-acre area ranging from 5 miles west of Ponca to 5 miles east of Pruitt, and 10 miles across.

Cory Gray, the AGFC's deer biologist, said that 82 animals tested positive for chronic wasting disease from a pool of 619 deer and 29 elk since Feb. 23, when the first case was confirmed in an elk that was killed in October. The infected animals included 79 deer and three elk.

"That's not the highest prevalence rate out there, but its not the lowest either," Gray said. "When we got the news that we got a CWD animal, the best news would have been that we would have a low prevalence rate, and we're not seeing that. It's higher than anyone would wish for."

Such a high prevalence rate, coupled with a high infection rate among fawns, strongly suggests the disease has been present for a long time, Gray said.

The second phase of testing will try to determine boundaries of the disease, or spatial distribution. Gray said all of the positive cases were found in Newton and Boone counties, including one north of Harrison, about 16 miles from the Missouri border.

"Once we determine the boundaries, we can set a containment area and not let this get out," Gray said. "That would be a huge victory in disease management to contain it to that area."

Gray said that biologists have been submitting roadkill samples from all over the state for testing every Friday. So far, none have tested positive.

Mike Knoedl, the AGFC's director, said that turkey hunters around the state have also been asked to report any sick deer they see.

Game and Fish Commissioner Steve Cook of Malvern said that hunters in south Arkansas are worried that the disease has spread south of I-40 or the Arkansas River.

"It's a major concern for everybody that have hunting clubs in Grant, Calhoun, Ouachita and all those counties that are predominantly full of timber company property," Cook said. "The economic impact of what this could do to our sportsmen who come to Arkansas to hunt and those who have hunting leases is potentially very significant. I'm sure this is going to have an effect on regulations that we're going to bring forward next deer season."

The commission will vote on 2016-2017 deer regulations in May.

Sports on 04/20/2016

Print Headline: CWD rate exceeds acceptable threshold

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