Citizen help critical to avoid spreading wildlife diseases

JEFFERSON CITY–At a time when many events are beyond one person’s control, it is reassuring to learn that personal action can affect something important to you.

That is the message from the Missouri Department of Conservation regarding the biggest current challenge to wildlife health – chronic wasting disease (CWD). With Missouri’s archery deer season set to open Sept. 15 and firearms season not far behind, the agency reminds hunters of their critical role in slowing the spread of CWD.

CWD is a fatal, neurologic disease of the deer family. Although there is no evidence it can infect domestic livestock or people, CWD could dramatically affect Missourians’ quality of life.

Millions of Missourians hunt white-tailed deer or enjoy watching deer and other wildlife. The Conservation Department is working to minimize the spread of CWD beyond the few square miles where it currently is found. Failure to do so could disrupt the $1 billion in economic activity and 12,000 jobs that revolve around deer hunting and viewing. Besides that, it could deprive hundreds of thousands of Missourians of treasured family hunting traditions and millions of pounds of lean, healthful meat that hunters share with family, friends, and needy Missourians each year.

The Conservation Department is hosting the following public meetings around the state to provide information about its plans and to get comments about limiting the spread of CWD among captive and free-ranging deer. People can also post comments online at mdc.mo.gov/deerhealth.

• Sept. 3, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Macon County Expo Center, U.S. Highway 63

• Sept. 5, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., MDC Powder Valley Nature Center, 11715 Cragwold Road, Kirkwood

• Sept. 16, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., West Plains Civic Center, 110 St. Louis St., West Plains

• Sept. 18, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., MDC Cape Girardeau Nature Center, 2289 County Park Drive

• Sept. 23, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., MDC Runge Nature Center, Missouri Highway 179, Jefferson City

• Sept. 30, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., Missouri Western University Kemper Recital Hall in Leah Spratt Hall, 4525 Downs Drive, St. Joseph

• Oct. 1, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., MDC Burr Oak Woods Nature Center, 1401 N.W. Park Road, Blue Springs

• Oct. 9, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., MDC Springfield Nature Center, 4601 S. Nature Center Way

For more information, go online to mdc.mo.gov and search “chronic wasting disease.”

“CWD is here,” says Conservation Department Resource Scientist Jason Sumners, “but that doesn’t mean we have to throw in the towel. There are several things that hunters and others who love wildlife can do to limit CWD’s impact on our deer herd.”

Sumners says the infectious agents that cause CWD are spread several ways. One major cause of spread is direct contact with an infected animal. Another is through contact with soil contaminated with CWD prions from infected animals’ urine or feces. To reduce the potential for these types of transmission, deer attractants, such as bait piles, have been prohibited in the CWD Containment Zone consisting of Adair, Chariton, Linn, Macon, Randolph, and Sullivan counties.

Soil also can be contaminated by decomposition of body parts from infected deer. To reduce this risk, hunters need to get in the habit of disposing of deer carcasses properly.

“Proper disposal is critical,” says Sumners. “We need hunters to dispose of deer carcasses in ways that prevent soil contamination.”

Sumners also noted that CWD might not always be confined to the CWD Containment Zone.

“We can’t be sure it won’t show up somewhere else in the state,” he says. “So it’s important for all deer hunters to get in the habit of properly disposing of carcasses by burying them or sending them to state-approved landfills. We want to do everything we can to make it harder for CWD to spread in Missouri.”

The Conservation Department has disposal information in the 2013 Fall Deer & Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet, which is available wherever hunting permits are sold. It also is online at mdc.mo.gov/node/3656.

“In the past, it was far less of a concern to shoot a deer in one area, put it in your truck, and take it home – maybe clear across the state – to butcher it,” says Sumners. “But today, to ensure the long-term health of our deer herd, we have to change our habits. That means boning out meat where a deer is taken and properly disposing of the carcass there. If we act decisively, we have a chance of slowing the spread of CWD to a crawl. That will buy us time to continue our efforts to find new solutions to this challenge.”

Sumners says CWD is unlike hemorrhagic diseases (EHD and blue-tongue), which only kill some infected animals, and those that survive develop immunity and pass it on to their offspring. The history of CWD in Colorado, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming shows that CWD spreads steadily through an increasing percentage of deer and kills every infected animal, ruling out the development of immunity.

The Conservation Department is acting decisively – with the help of landowners – to slow the spread of CWD. For the past three years, landowners and Conservation Department teams have been removing deer from the CWD Core Area. This 30-square-mile area surrounds the locations around the Linn-Macon county line where CWD-positive deer have been found. This reduces deer population density, thereby decreasing the likelihood of CWD spreading from one deer to another. The Conservation Department also has been testing deer taken in this area and statewide to track the distribution and prevalence of CWD.

Hunters in the six-county CWD Containment Zone help with this effort by submitting tissue samples to the Conservation Department for testing.

Because brain tissue can carry CWD prions, it is important to properly handle the heads or skulls of trophy deer. Hunters can use meat saws or reciprocating saws to remove the antlers with a small skull plate for mounting and send the rest to a landfill. Removing excess tissue from skull plates, deer hides, and capes makes them safe to take to other areas.

The importation, transportation, or possession of deer, elk, or moose carcasses or carcass parts from outside of Missouri is regulated to protect Missouri’s deer herd. You can bring in meat that is cut and wrapped, meat that has been boned out, quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached, hides or capes from which all excess tissue has been removed, antlers, antlers attached to skull plates or skulls cleaned of all muscle and brain tissue, upper canine teeth, and finished taxidermy products.

People may transport carcasses or parts of carcasses with the spinal column or head attached into Missouri only if they report the action to MDC by calling 877-853-5665 within 24 hours of entering the state. They must then take the carcasses or parts of carcasses to a licensed meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours of entry. Licensed meat processors and taxidermists must dispose of the discarded tissue in a properly permitted landfill.

-Jim Low-

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