Chronic wasting disease is one of the biggest conservation challenges of our time. In my previous article, I discussed various reasons everyone should be concerned about CWD. However, that may have left you wondering what we can do about it.
The answer is we can buy time and pay for science. Through hunting and other efforts, we can work to slow the spread of CWD while scientists work on ways to mitigate the effects and find a cure.
One of the most common remarks I hear about CWD is: “There’s no cure and we can’t stop it, so we should just learn to live with it and let nature take its course.”
Some of that statement is correct. There is no known cure for CWD and, to date, except in New York, we have not been able to stop its spread. But, like other diseases, steps can be taken to control the spread.
Think about communicable, epidemic human diseases, like the flu, hepatitis, HIV, AIDS and Ebola. We have learned to prevent and control the spread of these diseases through quarantines, changing behaviors and developing medicines. The more time scientists have to work, the more protocols and treatments they develop. Similar results have occurred with the control and prevention of animal diseases. We simply need to apply that kind of concern and vision on prevention and control of CWD while science continues to run its course.
Different Responses, Different Results
In 2002, five deer in a New York captive cervid facility and two wild deer near the facility tested positive for CWD. Aggressive action was taken, and the disease was contained to a very small area. Because of that swift action, since 2005, with nearly 50,000 deer tested to date, no new cases of CWD have been discovered in New York.
Wisconsin discovered CWD in its deer herd about the same time as New York but quickly abandoned their CWD eradication and management plan because of political pressure. As a result, Wisconsin’s CWD story is much different.
In 2018, of 17,239 deer tested, Wisconsin recorded 1,061 positive cases statewide. One Wisconsin county in the original outbreak area had 397 of 1,495 deer, or 26.5% positive last year. Prevalence in adult bucks is more than 55% and adult does more than 35% in some areas.
What We Can Do About CWD
As with other diseases, if you don’t have it, you don’t want it. If you do have it, you can work to control the spread and prevalence of CWD. Here are a few things we can do to support our wildlife agencies, biologists and research scientists working on CWD.
The first thing is to keep hunting. Or, start hunting and encourage others to hunt! Concern for CWD is no reason to leave the woods.
You should also continue to learn about members of the cervid family, their habitat and habits. Learn as much as you can about these incredible creatures and the conservation efforts on their behalf. Learning more about CWD will inevitably be part of that journey.
Supporting science-based research on CWD, it’s cause, prevention and cure is a no-brainer. We’re all in this together. Hunters, cervid farmers and the general public all have a common interest in fighting CWD.
Along with that is supporting state and federal wildlife agencies and wildlife biologists. It’s a shame how often business interests and politics can get in the way of good wildlife management. Backing the professionals and scientists who are trained and charged with protecting our natural resources is vital. These people have spent their careers and dedicated their lives to conserving and enhancing natural resources. They deserve our support.
If you’re in an area that doesn’t have CWD, here’s what you can do to help stop it from getting there.
Learn about herd population dynamics, harvest goals and the reasons behind them. If you’re a landowner, consider allowing more access to hunters on your property to achieve management goals and speak with them about the need for herd and disease control.
When you harvest an animal, follow safe handling recommendations for handling deer and elk in CWD areas. Get your harvested animals tested. The tests results help enormously with the science of understanding spread and prevalence and can help agencies with management decisions. If you plan to eat the meat of a CWD positive animal, let your state agency know and add your name to the list of people who are doing so. This will help surveillance and research on the interface between CWD and humans.
Know and follow CWD regulations where you are hunting and anywhere you are transporting your harvested animal. Dispose of the carcass of the harvested animal properly and demand that your state establish measures to allow for hygienic carcass disposal. Most states where CWD is present have or are developing response plans. Proper disposal will slow the spread of the disease into new areas.
If you’re hunting in a CWD area, it’s likely there are restrictions on what hunting methods or lures you can use. Even if it’s legal where you hunt, don’t use bait piles, urine or attractant of any kind. They unnaturally congregate deer and elk into small areas where they can come in contact with each other’s saliva, urine or feces.
You may have heard the argument that deer are social animals and naturally congregate, lick and groom each other, lick branches, etc. so they will naturally come in contact with each other and thus, it’s OK to continue using bait and lures. While it is true that deer are gregarious creatures, encouraging unnatural congregation and exchanges simply increases the odds of disease transmission
Bait piles especially encourage unnatural contact and help cast CWD prions in a very small area. We can’t do anything about natural deer and elk behavior, but we can darn sure do something about ours.
Consider getting involved with efforts to educate other folks. Support groups and organizations who are helping with the effort. Here are some resources for information and groups who are helping with CWD efforts: USGS National Wildlife Health Center; Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Quality Deer Management Association, National Deer Alliance, Wildlife Management Institute, National Wildlife Federation, Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance and Archery Trade Association.
CWD is not going away anytime in the foreseeable future and science has a lot of work to do. Let’s help with that effort by enjoying hunting and venison while being mindful that we can help slow the spread and reduce prevalence of the disease. Like I said, if you don’t have it, you don’t want it. The best thing we as MeatEaters can do is buy time and pay for science.
Feature image via Captured Creative.