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Audiences were curious but not fearful at the chronic wasting disease meetings the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission held Monday and Tuesday at Jasper and Marshall.

The Jasper meeting had the greater potential to be contentious because it is ground zero of the CWD crisis. The only known cervid ever to test positive for the disease was killed a few miles north of Jasper, near Pruitt, close to the Buffalo River in October.

A crowd of about 150 listened raptly to a CWD presentation led by Brad Carner, chief of the AGFC's wildlife management division. Carner explained what CWD is, how deer and elk contract it, and how long it stays in the environment.

For the most part, the people who spoke at the Jasper meeting seemed very protective of the elk and were rueful about the possible removal of elk from the Buffalo River landscape.

The commission supplied forms that landowners could fill out, allowing AGFC personnel to enter their land to kill deer and elk for CWD sampling in a 5-mile zone. Landowners who don't want AGFC personnel on their land could fill out a different form volunteering to kill deer and elk for sampling themselves.

After the meeting, landowners picked up or filled out the forms.

The meeting offered a few revelations. Most notably, the AGFC recommends not eating any meat from a deer or elk that tests positive for CWD.

Carner and Wes Wright, the AGFC's elk program coordinator, said there is no known incident of anyone contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- the human version of CWD -- from eating a deer or elk infected with CWD. Nevertheless, Wright said scientific and wildlife management communities recommend not eating any part of a CWD-infected cervid.

Also, killing deer and elk because of CWD will be progressive in terms of territory.

The AGFC's original CWD response plan prescribed killing cervids within a core zone, which had a 25-mile radius and 50-mile diameter. The updated plan the AGFC adopted Feb. 23 reduced the core zone to 5 miles, but progressive sampling could lead to the same destination.

The AGFC will attempt to kill about 40 elk and 250 deer in the 5-mile core zone in just 26 days, from March 7 to April 1. Cory Gray, the AGFC's deer program coordinator, said AGFC personnel will station shooters on fields, but that shooters will also operate from helicopters using night vision equipment. They will suspend operations April 1 to avoid interfering with spring turkey season, which begins April 16.

If another animal with CWD is taken anywhere within the core zone, the site where that animal is killed will become the epicenter of a new core zone with a radius of an additional 5 miles. New core zones will be established until no more positive samples are obtained.

Consequently, CWD could significantly affect deer hunting regulations throughout Deer Management Zone 2 in the 2016-17 deer seasons.

If CWD is found to be prevalent in that area's elk herd, the AGFC likely will suspend the three-point rule for legal bucks next season and significantly increase bag limits for the purpose of reducing the size of the deer herd.

It is also possible that sampling could reduce the size of the Buffalo River elk herd to a number too small to be sustainable.

That is, of course, a worst-case scenario, but hunters and elk watchers should be prepared.

At least for now, CWD is the face of a new reality in Newton County. We sincerely hope the AGFC does not find another case of CWD there or anywhere else.

Ever.

Sports on 03/03/2016

Print Headline: AGFC laying out CWD reality

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