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ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: CWD fallout awaits hunters

by Bryan Hendricks | March 24, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

Chronic wasting disease is the most disheartening thing that has happened to Arkansas wildlife in recent years, but it's too early to make conclusions.

Right now, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission is trying to find out how prevalent the disease is among deer and elk in Newton County. Its biologists also are trying to pinpoint the "ground zero" concentration of CWD, or if a ground zero concentration even exists.

The only facts we have as of today are that the AGFC confirmed that 22 animals tested positive for CWD in the last 30 days. Two was an elk; the rest were whitetailed deer.

Nobody knows how long chronic wasting disease has been in Arkansas. Finding that first elk was like finding a $100 bill in a parking lot. A hunter just happened to kill a CWD-positive animal last October, but the disease might have been in the Buffalo River area for years. Maybe it was blind luck, or maybe it was inevitable.

It is possible that many animals died of chronic wasting disease and were consumed by scavengers and returned to the earth without generating curiosity or suspicion.

The science generated by sampling 300 deer and an undetermined number of elk in Newton County will give us some answers, but none will be comforting.

Chronic wasting disease has definitely spread beyond the Buffalo River area. The AGFC can only slow its spread by reducing the size of the deer herd in that area.

Unfortunately, there will be no recovery until scientists discover a cure and a prevention for chronic wasting disease. That means the deer herd in the upper Buffalo Valley will have to be kept at a low density, which will require hunters killing a lot of does in a short time.

Along with low numbers, the deer herd will have to be kept young. The AGFC will probably structure regulations to encourage hunters to significantly reduce the buck numbers, and to eliminate mature bucks.

A deer usually dies within 18 months of contracting chronic wasting disease, but a deer has a greater chance of contracting the disease the longer it lives. Bucks roam greater distances than does, especially during the rut. Killing bucks before they reach age 2 might reduce their potential to distribute the infection elsewhere.

Elk pose a different problem. They roam a lot farther than deer and have a greater potential to carry chronic wasting disease "over the mountain."

Non-hunters that enjoy watching elk in Boxley Valley must accept the fact that a big concentration of elk in that area will soon be history. Brad Carner, chief of wildlife management for the AGFC, said the Boxley Valley herd must be thinned.

"We will probably ask the commission to relax some hunting restrictions for elk in Boxley Valley," Carner said. "There are too many elk concentrated there. We don't need to even consider moving animals. We just need to thin the herd."

The commission is considering a new regulation to prohibit the sale and possession of deer attractants that contain deer urine. The reason, Carner said, is because almost all deer urine used in those products comes from a few captive deer herds from other states. CWD can be transmitted through urine, but since there is no way to test live deer for CWD, it is not possible to certify that the products won't pass on CWD.

If approved, that regulation will take effect after the end of the 2016-17 deer season.

If CWD transmission through bottled urine is a legitimate concern, then it seems careless to wait a full year to ban it.

By extension, it was even more careless not to have banned it years ago.

Since chronic wasting disease flared up in Newton County, the Pine Thicket Bureau has gotten emails from readers sharing observations of sick and emaciated deer in other parts of the state.

Anybody that sees a sick deer anywhere in Arkansas should try to keep tabs on it and inform the Game and Fish Commission. Its biologists are motivated to investigate.

As this story unfolds, my mind keeps going back to a float fishing trip I made with my sons over spring break in 2011, when we encountered a dead elk in the Buffalo River between Kyle's Landing and Pruitt. I thought it odd at the time, but it didn't occur to me that it might have been a CWD casualty.

I really wish I had told somebody at the AGFC.

Sports on 03/24/2016

Print Headline: CWD fallout awaits hunters

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