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JASPER -- Nearly 150 people gathered at the Carroll Electric Building on Monday to hear a presentation on the chronic wasting disease from biologists with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

The panel for the discussion included Brad Carner and Dick Baxter, chief and assistant chief, respectively, of the AGFC's wildlife management division; Don White, professor of wildlife ecology with the University of Arkansas agricultural extension at Monticello; Cory Gray, the AGFC's deer program coordinator; Wes Wright, the AGFC's elk program coordinator; Dr. Margaret Wild, wildlife veterinarian for the National Park Service; and Kevin Cheri, the National Park Service's superintendent for the Buffalo National River. Ken Reeves of Harrison, a member of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, also attended.

The only known instance of chronic wasting disease recorded in Arkansas was reported last Tuesday from an elk that was killed late October in the Buffalo National River corridor in Searcy County, near Pruitt. As a result, the AGFC announced itwill kill between 40-50 elk and about 250 deer March 7 through April 1 within a five-mile radius of where the infected elk was killed.

The AGFC held the meeting to brief the community on the CWD sampling efforts, which will occur largely on private land. To that end, the AGFC also sought permission from landowners to allow AGFC personnel to their land for sampling, or to kill deer and elk on their property for sampling themselves.

"We have no intention of coming in on private landowners that don't want us to access their property or don't want us to collect samples," Carner said. "We're looking for willing landowners that will allow us to come in and take samples, or landowners that are willing to do it themselves.

Wright said all of the elk in the five-mile sampling zone will probably be killed.

Audience members questioned the panel about how CWD is transmitted, how long it persists in the environment and whether people can contract it.

The pathogenic protein, or prion, that causes CWD is found in the saliva, feces, urine, blood and carcasses of infected animals, Carner said. He also said an infected animal can begin shedding prions within six months of acquiring the disease, but clinical symptoms can appear within 18-60 months.

Symptoms include behavioral changes, excessive drinking, excessive urination, excessive salivation and excessive drowsiness. Infected deer and elk also exhibit a wide stance, and lowered heads and ears.

Keith Stephens, chief of communications for the AGFC, said CWD-infected deer and elk are often killed by motor vehicles because they won't move off roadways. For that reason, the AGFC routinely tests road-killed deer for CWD.

A heated exchange occurred between John Butler, a landowner in Boxley Valley, which has a large elk concentration, and the panel. Butler said the AGFC violated its mandate under Amendment 35 to the state constitution to protect Arkansas wildlife by importing elk from Colorado in the 1980s, which he called an "exotic" species.

Butler also demanded the AGFC kill every elk in Arkansas.

White said there is no proof that there are different eastern elk subspecies in North America, and that there is no genetic differences between Rocky Mountain elk and the elk that were extirpated from Arkansas in the 1800s.

"I feel we've got only species of elk in North America," White said. "It certainly is within the purview of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to reintroduce a native species."

Reeves said reintroducing elk was one of the AGFC's accomplishments and he would do everything within his power to enhance elk hunting and elk viewing opportunities. The audience applauded Reeve's remarks.

A second meeting will be held today in Marshall, starting at 6 p.m. at the Petit Jean Electric Cooperative.

Sports on 03/01/2016

Print Headline: AGFC addresses state's CWD issue

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