Some Carroll County residents rely heavily on venison to feed their families, often harvesting several deer per season. One family in Berryville this past winter harvested three deer and all three were found to be suffering from Chronic Waste Disease. Carroll County currently has the second highest rate of CWD in deer in the State of Arkansas with 76 confirmed cases as of April 24.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CWD is a prion disease that affects deer, elk, reindeer, sika deer and moose. “It may take over a year before an infected animal develops symptoms, which can include drastic weight loss (wasting), stumbling, listlessness and other neurologic symptoms,” the CDC says. “CWD is fatal to animals and there are no treatments or vaccines.”
So far, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people. But some studies raise concerns that eating meat from animals with CWD could be a risk to people. The World Health Organization recommends keeping all agents of all known prion diseases from entering the human food chain.
Cory Gray, chief of the research division, Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, said the largest number of CWD cases are in the southeast part of Carroll County closer to the epicenter of the epidemic in Newton County, where there have been 367 cases confirmed in deer and 14 in elk.
As far as the occurrence, Gray said the nature of the disease is that the highest prevalence tends to form an epicenter, then taper out as you get farther away. “CWD tends to be a link disease, meaning prevalence is linked to spatial distribution – as distance from epicenter increases, disease prevalence decreases.”
CWD is believed to be spread by saliva, urine or feces, either through direct contact or indirectly by contamination of soil, food or water. Normally deer don’t come into close contact with each other’s saliva, but an exception is a location where the deer are watered or being fed corn.
A number of stores in Carroll County sell deer food year around. Some people like feeding the deer to enjoy watching them. Others routinely feed the deer so they can easily harvest them during the hunting season. But it is against state law to feed the deer year around.
“As far as regulations, Carroll County is part of the CWD management zone,” Gray said. “Feeding of deer is not allowed throughout the year, but baiting of deer is allowed for a limited period of time between September1 to December 31. We allow baiting as a tool to aid in the harvest of the animals. When that tool is no longer effective, we ask that it be taken away. Right now, no one should be feeding deer in Carroll County. With the exception of bird and squirrel feeders, supplemental feeding within urban and residential areas creates additional challenges; we don’t recommend any supplemental feeding of wildlife. Urban deer can be a challenge to manage and available tools are limited in what you can use to keep deer out of yards. We never encourage people to start the process of feeding the deer.”
But the ban on deer feeding is hard to enforce. Gray said they have worked with several communities and towns, city council and mayors, trying to discourage residents from baiting and feeding. Eureka Springs banned deer feeding several years ago.
“We all like seeing wildlife,” Gray said. “But, at the same time, you are attracting them into town where they are protected from hunters, and where they can cause a nuisance from vehicle collisions to eating vegetables and ornamental plants. From a human health standpoint, deer can carry in a high number of ticks into these communities. So, your tick load increases. There is concern about tick-borne illnesses being transmitted to humans.”
With all the rain this spring, there is plenty of food available for the deer right now. Gray said once we get farther into the summer months, it is likely to get drier and there will be more pressure with deer trying to find food from people’s yards and gardens.
Gray said they highly encourage hunters to get deer tested before eating them, based on recommendations from the CDC. Testing is free as they don’t want the testing to be a burden to hunters.
“We notify them immediately if the deer tests positive for CWD, and will work with them to get the deer taken care of,” Gray said. “We hope this will not be a burden, especially to families dependent on venison for food. We do know not all hunters are using testing methods. We are trying to make it more convenient. The deer hunting process includes scouting the area, having hunting equipment, harvesting and field dressing animals. We hope testing becomes the next part of the hunter’s process.”
Statewide, since July 1, 2018, 7,382 deer have been tested. Gray said that is an increase. Every year they tend to see an increase in the number of samples tested. AG&F’s testing has demonstrated the highest likelihood of being infected is older bucks. The least risk is in fawns.
CWD was first identified in a captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967. The disease was first identified in Colorado in a free-ranging elk in 1981. In the early 2000s, the disease was discovered in white-tailed deer in Wisconsin. But even where CWD has been around for a long time, deer hunting continues and not all deer get the disease.
“We hope that people continue to use the resources and continue to hunt deer,” Gray said. “We are not the only state with this disease. Neighboring states such as Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, Texas and Tennessee have it at varying levels. We are going to continue to deer hunt and manage that resource the best we can. No deer population has gone extinct because of this disease. One benefit to this disease is it is a slow moving and deer are highly productive. We are going to continue to manage for a highly productive deer herd.”
For additional information concerning CWD visit: www.cwd-info.org; www.agfc.com; www.cdc.gov.