Four deer experts at the ATA Trade Show on Friday said two things must happen to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease across the country: end all transportation of live deer and elk by private cervid farms and state wildlife agencies, and ban hunters from transporting the carcasses of elk and deer across state lines.
Brian Murphy, CEO of the Quality Deer Management Association, said he would support a national moratorium requiring hunters to take only deboned meat and clean skull plates/antlers across state lines. Murphy said each state now makes its own rules about transporting elk and deer carcasses, which causes confusion and unintentional violations when hunters return home from out-of-state hunts.
The panel discussion/press conference, which was convened by the QDMA and National Deer Alliance, also included Dr. Grant Woods of “Growing Deer TV”; Kip Adams, QDMA’s conservation director; and Nick Pinizzotto, the NDA’s president/CEO.
Murphy and Pinizzotto said CWD has become a national concern, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are now listening, talking and writing legislation to increase funding for research and management. Managing the disease has proven difficult the past two decades because the nation lacks a comprehensive program for states to follow. The result is inadequate monitoring, too few testing facilities, and inconsistent transportation rules and disposal guidelines, all of which states tackle mostly on their own.
CWD is in the same family of diseases as Mad Cow Disease, which jumped the species barrier to humans in Great Britain during the 1980s. The human form of the disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob. Those ailments, as well as scrapie in sheep, are caused by rogue prions that trigger fatal degenerative diseases affecting nerve cells in the brain. They always end in death after causing mental, physical, and sensory problems such as dementia and seizures.
CWD was first documented in a mule deer test facility in Colorado in 1967, and later identified as a prion disease in the 1970s. It was considered a “Western U.S.” disease until it was detected in Wisconsin after the 2001 gun-deer season. Wisconsin has confirmed 5,196 CWD cases the past 18 years, including a record 1,010 so far in its 2018-19 testing cycle.
CWD has now been found in 26 states. Photo Credit: MDC Hunting and Fishing
The disease has since been found in elk or deer in 26 states. Tennessee became the most recent state to identify CWD in its wild deer when it confirmed 13 cases in late December in Fayette and Hardeman counties near the Mississippi border. It has since confirmed at least 11 more cases.
Officials at the National Elk Refuge near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, are also concerned about CWD at the refuge’s famous feeding grounds after a nearby mule deer in Teton County tested positive in November.
Although there’s no evidence CWD can jump the species barrier, health officials worldwide recommend not eating the meat from animals testing positive for the disease.
Pinizzotto encouraged hunters to “own” the disease by working together to support wildlife agencies and science-based efforts to learn more about CWD. He said the NDA now spends 75 percent of its efforts on CWD, including trips to Washington, D.C., to persuade lawmakers to support legislation to fund more research and testing.
If you're wondering whether your deer has CWD, drop it off at a CWD testing drop-off container. Photo Credit: Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
Pinizzotto also urged hunters to get their information from the CWD Alliance (cwd-info.org), a nonpartisan, science-based group affiliated with the Wildlife Management Institute, Boone and Crockett Club, Mule Deer Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Whitetails Unlimited, National Shooting Sports Foundation and other respected conservation groups.
“We need to get past all the misinformation that’s out there,” Pinizzotto said. “It’s easy to believe someone when they say exactly what you want to hear, but this is a real problem and it’s not going away. We need to take it seriously. Let’s not forget that 80 percent of this industry depends on healthy elk and deer.”
Murphy said hunters should remain optimistic and engaged. He noted that even though 26 states have confirmed CWD’s presence, only 8 percent of counties in the whitetail’s range are known to have the disease. The QDMA loosely defines the nation’s whitetail range as all states east of a line running from Montana’s eastern border south to Texas’ western border.
Murphy also noted, however, that he’s not saying 92 percent of counties in whitetail country are CWD-free. Such claims would be inaccurate, because many areas haven’t tested deer for CWD in over a decade. Even now, most states don’t have budgets to systematically test deer statewide. Most states carried out extensive tests in 2003 and 2004 after Wisconsin found CWD, but testing since then has declined dramatically.
The panelists also agreed that hunters should dispose of all deer bones, especially the spine and head, in landfills. Don’t discard bones in the wild.
The QDMA also urges hunters in known CWD areas to intensify hunting pressure on bucks 3.5 years of age and older. CWD rates are two to four times higher in adult bucks than the rest of the herd.
Even so, Murphy said hunters must also keep shooting antlerless deer. “Shoot those 3.5-year-old does, too, he said. “We can’t let these herds get out of control by worrying only about bucks.”
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