A reminder for avid hunters, deer-camp spectators and outdoor enthusiasts as deer season opens: In June the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) added Van Buren County to the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management Zone. This means hunters who successfully harvest a deer in Van Buren County will no longer be allowed to move any part of their deer except for deboned meat, hides, cleaned antlers and skull plates, and finished taxidermy items, outside of the CWD Management Zone.
CWD is a fatal disease of the brain and nervous system found in deer, elk, and other members of the deer family (scientific name: cervids). It is similar to mad cow disease and scrapie, a disease found in sheep. The only test approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture involves lymph nodes and a portion of the brain stem removed from deer or elk after death to look for the specific prion, which is a misshapen protein.
Symptoms of the disease include staggering, drooling, losing fear of humans, weight loss, excessive thirst, and loss of bodily functions. It is spread through saliva, feces, and possibly other secretions. Some deer have appeared to be symptom-free, but still tested positive for the disease.
According to the AGFC there is no current evidence CWD can spread to livestock or humans.
“The regulation primarily concerns people supplementally feeding deer and concentrating them in one spot,” said Jenn Ballard, veterinarian for the AGFC’s newly formed Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division, in a June press release.
“Yearling bucks are an age class of white-tailed deer that tend to travel the farthest. They can range up to 50 miles, but we based our CWD management strategy on the assumption of a 10-mile average dispersal radius. Some may go more or less than that, but to keep it reasonable, any county that significantly overlaps one of those circles is included,” Ballard said.
No positive cases of CWD have been found in Van Buren County, but a positive elk was collected in Searcy County last year within a few miles of the county line. Based on AGFC’s management strategy for disease containment, counties within a 10-mile radius of a positive CWD case are included in the management zone.
To date, there have been 213 confirmed cases of CWD in Arkansas.
“The prion which causes the disease is very resistant,” Ballard said. “We want to prevent the spread of it as much as possible because it stays in the environment indefinitely. We know that the brain and nervous tissue are the areas of the cervid’s body that house the most prions, so by leaving that portion in the zone, we drastically reduce the chance of spreading the disease to new areas of the state.”
Ballard says the safest way to dispose of the remainder of the carcass is to bury it within the CWD Management Zone or take it to an approved landfill within the zone to help prevent scavengers from spreading infectious material.
She added there are still information gaps left to fill regarding CWD’s spread in Arkansas, but the picture is becoming clearer each time samples are taken and tested.
“We’re coming closer to defining the boundaries of the disease and hope to have more information by the end of the next hunting season, once more samples can be gathered from hunter harvests.”
The 11 countywide CWD Management Zone includes: Van Buren Searcy, Pope, Yell, Logan, Johnson, Newton, Carroll, Boone, Madison, and Marion.
Archery season for deer begins Saturday, Sept. 23; however, the AGFC will collect samples for CWD testing later this year from hunter-harvested deer in the management zone on opening weekend of the modern gun season from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 11-12. Hunters are encouraged to bring their harvested animals or the head with a portion of the neck attached to various locations within the monitoring zone. In Van Buren County this location is: Dead Drop Outdoors, 123 South Hills Drive, in Damascus. Results of the tests will be available a few weeks later.
Being in the CWD management zone makes the feeding of wildlife, specifically deer, prohibited, but there are exceptions. Incidental feeding within active livestock or agricultural operations is allowed, along with backyard birdfeeders, birdbaths, and squirrel feeders. Food plots are allowed year-round along with hand-feeding of wildlife. Deer feeding is also allowed for approved AGFC management, research, and control of wildlife.
In “Chronic Wasting Disease Questions and Answers” by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the first positive CWD case in Arkansas came from a two-and-a-half year old female elk taken during the 2015 public land elk hunt on the Buffalo National River near Pruitt, in Newton County. Not long after that, the first positive CWD case from a deer was from a two-and-a-half year old doe found dead near the Ponca Elk Education Center in Boxley Valley, also in Newton County. Although these CWD cases showed up in the 2015-16 hunting seasons, it is difficult to say exactly when the disease arrived in Arkansas. It goes on to say the disease appears to have been around for decades and there is strong evidence it was spread to Arkansas by people transporting infected animals or infected carcasses.
The disease was first discovered in a captive mule deer, in Colorado, in 1967. Since then, it has been found in 23 other states, Canada, Norway, and South Korea.
Hunters are encouraged to visit agfc.com or check the 2017 Hunting Guidebook for more information on CWD and hunting regulations. If you see a deer or elk you suspect of having CWD, report it at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-482-9262.
The AGFC also has a “Deer Hunting Observational Survey” free app for smartphones that allows users to record sightings of game species and also nongame species such as feral hogs, in an easy to use format.