At the most recent Natural Resources Board (NRB) meeting, Department of Natural Resources wildlife health conservation specialists Amanda Kamps presented the department’s most recent update on the state’s Chronic Wasting Disease response plan.
CWD is an always-fatal neurological disease affecting cervids such as white-tailed deer and elk. The state began monitoring the white-tailed deer population in 1999. The fist positives were found in 2002. Since then, the disease has made its way across the state with 57 CWD-affected counties in the state presently. Of those counties a deer has tested positive in either the wild herd or on a game farm in 40 counties, while 17 counties are within 10 miles of a positive test.
When a cervid is found to have tested positive for CWD, the county in which the deer was harvested or found, by statute, is subject to a three-year ban on baiting and feeding of wild deer in the county. Any county within 10 miles of a positive test is subject to a two-year feeding and baiting ban. This is done in an attempt to avoid unnatural concentrations of deer and deer repeatedly visiting the same location. This year, according to Kamps, no feeding and baiting bans were set to expire.
This past hunting season, hunters submitted deer for testing in all counties in the state. This made for just under 19,000 tests this year, with an average turn-around time of test to be nine days. In the Southern Farmland Zone, 9,315 deer were tested with 1,542 positives. In the remainder of the state, 29 positives came back from the testing of 9,509 deer, Kamps said.
Two new programs, the Adopt A Dumpster (AAD) and the Adopt A Kiosk (AAK), saw strong participation in the most recent hunting season. The Adopt A Dumpster program was created to offer proper disposal options for deer carcasses. There is concern around the prion that causes CWD and its ability to remain in the environment for many years. Using a proper disposal method can help to contain those prions and not expose the environment, and possibly other animals, to an infected carcass.
Last season, there were 105 dumpsters available throughout the state. Forty-nine of those dumpsters were placed through the state’s cost shar program made possibly by a USDA grant. In total, Kamps reported, there were 55 AAD partners and participants in the program this year. This meant dumpsters were available in every county in the state this year. The total spent on the program this year was $64,000.
The Adopt A Kiosk program provides places for hunters to bring their deer to be tested for CWD. This year 15 participants helped make that testing more readily available. While many DNR offices have kiosks available, the program looks to expand the opportunities to have testing done, hoping this will increase the rate of testing across the state. Ten of those locations were Level 1 locations, meaning the participant checked on supplies continually, letting the department know when the kiosk needed attention. The Level 2 locations, of which there were four, had participants who checked the data sheets submitted to be sure all of the required information had been provided. The one Level 3 location helped hunters with sample collection as well as providing the other services of Level 1 and 2 kiosks.
Kamps gave an overview of both programs and their availability during last fall’s nine-day gun deer season. There were a total of 255 sampling locations across the state. Of those, 41 were staffed. There were 183 self-serve kiosks and 31 locations offered sampling by appointment.
In the area of carcass disposal, there were 129 approved locations available to hunters during the nine-day gun deer season. Fourteen of those were landfills, 10 were transfer stations, and 105 were dumpsters offering collection for deer carcasses.
The USDA grant received by the state allowed for the expansion of state-wide messaging about CWD, Kamps said. It also allowed for increased sampling and disposal locations, including the expansion of the AAK program. The grant also helped continue surveillance efforts in the Northeastern District, she said, as well as increased the automation of the GO Wild system, processing 2,456 deer samples over the season. Those grants are also allowing the DNR’s department of applied science to work on a study looking at chemical deactivation of soil-bound CWD prions.
Kamps ended her presentation looking at the state’s Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) study. With the finding in 2018 of Bovine TB on a cattle farm, testing of white tailed deer, who are also susceptible to the diseases, was done during a three-year study around the farm. Eighty samples were collected in 2020, with no deer testing positive for the disease. Kamps said there are discussions underway regarding possibly carrying that program into the 2021 hunting season.