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CWD does not deter deer hunters in the Ozarks

by Bryan Hendricks | November 27, 2016 at 2:29 a.m.

Apparently, hunters in northern Arkansas aren't worried about chronic wasting disease, despite CWD's high prevalence in their deer.

At the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's monthly meeting recently, AGFC deer biologist Cory Gray briefed the commission on the agency's CWD monitoring efforts.

For opening weekend of the modern gun deer season, the commission's wildlife management division set up 10 stations in the 10 counties that comprise the CWD management zone. Since hunters kill the largest concentration of deer on opening weekend of modern gun deer season, Gray said he expected to collect 300 samples per station, or a total of 3,000.

Hunters brought in only 535 whitetailed deer and two elk for sampling, despite record deer kills in all 10 counties.

Hunters checked about 5,600 deer, including 735 in Newton County, Gray said. That's a five-year high.

Newton County is the state's proverbial ground zero for CWD, and its deer have the highest prevalence rate of the disease. But hunters are not deterred.

"This is not typical," Gray said. "Usually there's a drop in harvest and participation in CWD areas, but we're not seeing that."

Gray said the only explanation is that hunters are not worried enough about CWD to let it interfere with their hunting.

Fear often stems from a lack of information and a lack of communication from an authority such as the AGFC. The agency shoveled information to the public through all of its media channels, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has covered it as thoroughly as possible.

The main thing hunters and their families want to know is whether deer in an area known to have CWD are safe to eat. There's no definitive evidence to suggest they're not.

The only consistent complaints I've heard regard the AGFC removing antler restrictions in the CWD management zone. That's understandable considering the effort and energy the AGFC has spent since 1997 educating the public about the role of antler point restrictions in quality deer management. Arkansas hunters grudgingly accepted the regulations at first and then supported them when they saw the results.

The Ozark region now has a nice deer herd with a lot of mature, large-antlered bucks, and hunters are reluctant to regress. Most who I've talked to said they won't change the way they hunt, and the attitude seems to be that they'll continue to manage in a manner that has proven successful and allow nature to follow its course.

The latest sad news concerning CWD is the confirmation of the disease last week in Yell County. That's the first documented case south of the Arkansas River, and the one hunters have dreaded. That means there's no barrier remaining to keep CWD from spreading across the rest of the state.

If such a barrier ever existed.

We see deer swimming frequently on Lake Ouachita, in the lower White River bottoms, the Arkansas River and even the Mississippi River. Heck, when I was fishing in Florida last summer at Panama City Beach, my guide and I encountered a pair a quarter mile off the beach, and they were headed out to sea.

Hopefully, the Yell County case is an outlier, as the lone case from southern Pope County seems to be.

Steven Beaupre, an ex officio member of the commission and head of the biology department at the University of Arkansas, asked whether the Pope County sample might have been erroneously diagnosed or a mislabeled sample from somewhere else. Gray said that was unlikely.

Gray also said that Yell County will not immediately be placed in the CWD management zone, and that the commission has no plans to alter or amend deer hunting regulations in that county this year.

In addition, Gray said the commission will oversee a project to assemble a genetic database of Arkansas deer and elk. Don White at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and Michael Douglas and Marlis Douglas at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville will undertake this project.

One objective is to determine which whitetailed deer and elk in Arkansas are genetically wired for vulnerability or resistance to CWD.

Also, Cynthia Bennett, director of UALR's Survey Research Center, will conduct a survey to document hunter opinions and attitudes about CWD one year after its confirmation in the state.

Sports on 11/27/2016

Print Headline: CWD does not deter deer hunters in the Ozarks


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