CWD UPDATE

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By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

 

Jim Jansen, Elkader, bagged his first deer 37 years ago with a bow. An avid sportsman ever since, deer hunting is one of the reasons he and his family relocated to Northeast Iowa in 2001. Jim, who works for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, knew this area led the state in the number of deer harvested. He hoped that living here would allow him to share his hunting passion with his wife, Joleen, and their three children, Jessica, Jacob and Jenna. 

The members of Jansen’s family have, in fact, become avid deer hunters. They hunt together and their efforts are generally successful. But news that chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been recently discovered in Clayton County has Jansen wondering how long his family will be able to enjoy the pastime.

“The news is disturbing to me, personally,” he told more than 300 people who last week packed the reception hall at Johnson’s in Elkader for a CWD update. “I want the deer hunting tradition to continue but that means working towards a healthy herd. It’s not a good day when you have to put down a deer that’s skin and bones.”

Extreme thinness is a symptom of CWD, a progressive brain disease that causes infected animals to literally waste away. Found in white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, reindeer and moose, it’s caused by deformed proteins called “prions.” CWD is spread through direct contact with an infected animal or contact with soil that contains prions from animal saliva or urine. Prions can live in soil for years and appear to be resistance to temperatures less than 1,600 degrees F.

CWD is always fatal. The disease can be present in deer for several months before symptoms are outwardly visible.

Several DNR officials attended the Elkader meeting, including Director Chuck Gipp and Dr. Dale Garner, a leading CWD expert who also heads up the DNR’s Conservation and Recreation Division. Garner offered some good news to the landowners, hunters and others who filled the reception hall. The afflicted deer, which was found four miles northwest of Elkader during the December shotgun season, is the first positive-CWD sample from Clayton County. It could be an isolated case. 

To determine whether more animals are carrying the disease, the DNR has authorized a special collection that started February 18 and continues through March 5. 

“We would like to collect 250 to 300 deer from a surveillance zone (section 7, Boardman township) that’s roughly a 5-mile radius around the area where the afflicted deer was shot,” Garner said. “We’ll remove the lymph nodes from the harvested animals and use them to test for CWD.”

The effort will also help reduce herd size; research suggests that smaller herds of deer slow the possible transmission of CWD.

Free permits for the collection period are available at the Osborne Center, which is also the collection point for deer carcasses. Last week, 108 permits were issued to 394 “collectors” (more than one person can be named on a permit). Eighty-seven deer were killed and brought to Osborne. Twelve were fawns, which are not tested so the total sample was 75.

“We are really pleased with the numbers,” said Terry Haindfield, DRN wildlife biologist.

The DNR needs only the lymph nodes; hunters can take their harvest with them, if they desire. Haindfield does ask that hunters wait to use the meat until test results are back, which will take about two weeks.

To further minimize the possibility of CWD, DNR officials discourage the practice of feeding or baiting deer, which causes large concentrations of animals, thus increasing the likelihood of animal-to-animal contact. Garner also advised disposing of deer carcasses in heavy-duty plastic bags, rather than leaving them in the field.

CWD, discovered in Colorado in 1967, has been found in several states. In 2013, CWD-positive deer were found in Allamakee County. Seventeen total positive cases have ben found there.

Scientists do not believe that CWD can be transmitted to humans. However, both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control warn against eating meat from CWD-positive deer.

About the collection period

Permits will be issued at the Osborne Center through March 5, Monday through Friday, 12 noon to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Samples can be brought to Osborne on those dates/times, as well. The DNR will also provide a dumpster at Osborne for the collection of carcasses. There is no cost for the collection permit.

For more information, call the DNR at 563-379-5725.

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