Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Diseased deer has Virginia officials concerned
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
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- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
At first glance, the 2-1/2-year old buck sprawled along the edge of a road in West Virginia wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. So many deer are killed by vehicles in the Mountain State that officials often don’t bother to carry off the bodies. They simply dump lime onto the carcass, which explains those mounds of white you see along the roadsides.
But this buck was different. It tested positive for the dreaded Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal and highly contagious neurological ailment sometimes called the Mad Cow Disease of deer.
It was the first time CWD has been detected in West Virginia and it caused state wildlife officials to sound the alarm of its CWD Response Plan. That included alerting officials in Virginia, which it did Friday.
The deer was found in Hampshire County, approximately 10 miles from the Virginia state line adjacent to Frederick County. That means it isn’t just a problem for West Virginia, but also is a huge concern for Virginia.
Virginia officials could have told their West Virginia peers, “We told you so.” The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has been well above average in its aggressiveness to keep CWD out of the state. It has:
>Resisted often strong pressure to stock elk in far Southwest Virginia and has allowed hunters to shoot elk that wander into the state from stockings in Kentucky.
>No longer issues permits for deer farming, which has pretty well dried up this industry.
>Has tested 1,200 deer for CWD; at least one from every county in the state.
>Has a CWD response plan in place.
>Has hired it’s first-ever wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Jonathan Sleeman.
>Has prohibited the importation and transportation of deer in the state including animals used as live deer displays in outdoor shows.
>Has a proposal pending that would prohibit hunters from transporting a whole deer carcass into the state when returning from a hunt in other states or Canadian provinces where CWD is present. Another proposal would make it illegal to feed deer from Sept. 1 through the first Saturday in January. Feeding can congregate deer and enhance the spread of disease, biologist say.
The weak spot in Virginia’s CWD defense system is the fact that border states are less stalwart in guarding against the disease. At its July board member, DGIF officials identified the most likely routes for CWD to enter Virginia. One is from elk stocked in Kentucky, another is from deer farms in adjoining states, including West Virginia.
“Unfortunately, we were not surprised by the location of the case in West Virginia,” said Dr. Sleeman. “We had already identified this region as a high risk area for CWD due to concentration of captive deer facilities in West Virginia and Maryland. We had planned to conduct enhanced surveillance in the western part of Northern Virginia this fall.”
Those surveillance plans shifted into high gear Friday. One of the first responses will be to determine the magnitude and geographic extent of CWD, said Dr. Sleeman.
“If more than one case is found we will establish a population reduction area to contain the disease,” he said.
Deer and deer hunting benefit the economy of Virginia and West Virginia in a major way. When CWD hit Wisconsin, hunting license sales plunged, along with expenditures for hunting gear and other goods and services required of hunters.
The discovery of CWD in West Virginia represents a significant threat to the state’s white-tailed deer, West Virginia officials say. However, a sudden and widespread die-off is not expected. Officials likened the disease to a 30- to 50-year epidemic with “unknown ramification.”
At this point, there is no evidence that CWD is in Virginia, said Dr. Sleeman. He expressed confidence that the safeguards implemented in Virginia since 2002 have paid of, and additional safeguards will be introduced.
The DGIF is moving to keep sportsmen informed. This likely will include statements that there is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans or livestock. With major deer hunting beginning in less than one month, officials can be expected to work hard to inform hunters that they can go ahead and enjoy the deer season and the venison they bring home.