Author: Cassie Scott
Protecting the nation’s deer population, as well as hunting opportunities, is a hefty task. As you may know, one of the industry’s biggest threats is chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease that slowly kills every deer, elk or other cervid it infects. The disease poses a serious threat to deer populations and state wildlife agencies, which rely on hunting and fishing license fees as a primary funding source.
The ATA’s Deer Protection Program is designed, in short, to create safety measures and protect member interests in the fight against CWD. The hope is to align state agencies with DPP goals and prevent full-scale restrictions. But when it comes to the CWD battle, caution prevails.
This map from the WDNR in 2018 shows us how CWD has affected deer and elk across the country. Photo Credit: Herbert Lange WDNR via AgWeb
Unlike many wildlife diseases, CWD is difficult to detect, especially in live deer. CWD is transmitted by infectious proteins called prions, which differ from a virus or bacteria. Prion-related diseases are 100 percent fatal and cannot be treated in cervid populations.
CWD prions have been found in the urine of infected deer, although researchers have found no proven connection between urine-based hunting products and the spread of CWD. Despite that fact, seven state agencies adopted regulations that prohibit the use of urine-based scents to protect their wildlife resources and revenue streams, fearing these scent products could spread CWD if the fluids came from an infected source. These state agencies include:
- Alaska Department of Natural Resources
- Arizona Game and Fish Department
- Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
- Idaho Fish and Game
- New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
- Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
- Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency also passed regulations that prohibit the use of urine, but the regulations don’t go into effect until the 2019 season.
However, the DPP has had success with a few state agencies. The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources deferred to the ATA’s Deer Protection Program as an alternative to a total ban on urine-based scents.
ATA staff worked with ATA-member scent manufacturers, urine providers, wildlife-disease experts and wildlife-agency staff to launch the DPP in June 2016 in response to CWD. The program imposes restrictions and guidelines for urine-production facilities and scent manufacturers to further reduce the already low risk of spreading CWD with scent-based products.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks used similar restrictions and guidelines in their accepted regulations a couple years ago. The system’s CWD management plan includes a mandatory CWD testing program for all licensed game farms and has provisions for depopulation and decontamination should CWD be detected. The regulations also prohibit the use or sale of deer or elk urine to mask human odor if the urine originated in a state or province with documented occurrences of CWD. However, the FWP Commission has authorized exceptions to this prohibition if individual facilities meet Archery Trade Association certification of being CWD-free.
More recently, on August 9, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources approved a series of deer hunting regulations aimed at slowing the spread of CWD. One regulation pertains to the ATA’s DPP. It indicates “a statewide ban on the use of all natural cervid urine-based lures and attractants, except for lures that are approved by the Archery Trade Association.”
A breakdown of how CWD affects organs. Photo Credit: SAWCorp
Both state agencies recognize deer-attractant scents and lures are important to hunters and the bowhunting industry, and have taken measures to allow the use of urine-based scents under a strict certification program, similar to the ATA’s DPP.
Many state agencies haven’t acted. Dan Forster, ATA’s vice president and chief conservation officer, hopes they consider the Deer Protection Program’s guidelines, which go beyond USDA standards.
“Two states have shown a great deal of confidence and respect in our organization by deferring something as critical as this to the ATA’s Deer Protection Program,” Forster said. “The ATA is happy to lend our third-party credibility to this issue. We’ve been able to protect our members’ interests by investing in this program.”
The ATA has created a seal of approval on urine based scents that will not cause the spread of disease. Photo Credit: ATA
The DPP allows participants to mark their products with the ATA “Seal of Participation” label – a blue checkmark beneath the ATA logo. The seal ensures scent manufacturers and other program participants are doing their part to stop the spread of disease and ensure healthy deer populations.
”We remain optimistic that states will give the DPP standards strong consideration as a reasonable alternative to a total urine ban as they work to develop comprehensive plans for preventing and controlling its spread,” Forster said.
To learn more about the Deer Protection Program, visit the ATA’s website. Or, contact Dan Forster, ATA’s vice president and chief conservation officer, at (866) 266-2776 Ext. 128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.