Prevent­ing ar­rival of chronic wast­ing dis­ease

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - History - By Wil­son Ring

Chronic wast­ing dis­ease has never been found in Ver­mont, New Hamp­shire and Maine, and bi­ol­o­gists hope the sin­gle case dis­cov­ered in a cap­tive deer just north of Mon­treal can be con­tained.

Deer bi­ol­o­gists across north­ern New Eng­land are dust­ing off their plans for deal­ing with a fa­tal dis­ease that has been spread­ing across North Amer­ica for a half-cen­tury and was re­cently dis­cov­ered again on a Cana­dian game farm.

Chronic wast­ing dis­ease has never been found in Ver­mont, New Hamp­shire and Maine, and bi­ol­o­gists hope the sin­gle case dis­cov­ered in a cap­tive deer just north of Mon­treal can be con­tained through ag­gres­sive mon­i­tor­ing and culling of wild deer in the area while they test to see whether the dis­ease has in­fected the wild pop­u­la­tion.

“If they find it in the wild, then the freak-out fac­tor goes through the roof be­cause at that point, it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore it spreads,” said Nick Fortin, deer bi­ol­o­gist for the Ver­mont Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife.

The dis­cov­ery comes as the states em­bark on an­nual fall deer hunts.

Chronic wast­ing dis­ease, which al­ways kills in­fected deer and re­lated an­i­mals, is sim­i­lar to mad cow dis­ease, which af­fects cat­tle. Both dis­eases can con­tam­i­nate for­age plants and build up in soil, where they can re­main for years.

It is not known to af­fect hu­mans, but of­fi­cials worry it could, over time, dam­age or de­stroy deer herds.

Ver­mont and many other states have pro­hib­ited hunters from bring­ing into the state deer, elk or parts of deer from ar­eas that have re­ported chronic wast­ing dis­ease or from cap­tive hunt or farm fa­cil­i­ties. Hunters can re­turn with some pro­cessed parts of the an­i­mals. Ver­mont and a num­ber of states have also banned the sale of deer urine, which is used a lure.

Since it was first rec­og­nized in cap­tive mule deer in Colorado about 50 years ago, chronic wast­ing dis­ease has slowly spread to more than two dozen states and a num­ber of Cana­dian prov­inces. States have spent mil­lions try­ing to halt that from hap­pen­ing.

Some feel that’s too much money to spend when lit­tle is known about the dis­ease. Shawn Schafer, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the North Amer­i­can Deer Farmer As- so­ci­a­tion, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion sup­ports many of the re­stric­tions on the move­ment of deer car­casses, but he feels not enough science has been done to de­ter­mine the scope of the dis­ease.

While bi­ol­o­gists fear that once it the dis­ease reaches an area it could be there to stay, but a 2005 outbreak in cen­tral New York was con­tained quickly and it hasn’t been de­tected in the state since.

Pa­trick Martin, a wildlife bi­ol­o­gist for the New York State Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion who is in charge of the wildlife health unit, said a rou­tine test dis­cov­ered the 2005 case in a deer from a cap­tive deer farm. A se­cond in­fected an­i­mal was then found on an­other farm.

Wildlife of­fi­cials sub­se­quently killed about 500 deer in the area and found two more deer in­fected wild deer. But the ag­gres­sive ap­proach, which cost about $1 mil­lion, ap­pears to have worked. Since then New York has tested ex­ten­sively and there have been no ad­di­tional cases.

“It was a per­fect storm for why it got there. It was kind of dumb luck that we able to take all the an­i­mals that were ex­posed,” Martin said. “The ad­van­tage was we found it early.”

JIM COLE—AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this March 4, 2010, file photo a small herd of deer feed on the grounds of Spruce Cone Cab­ins and Camp­ground, in Pitts­burg, N.H. Deer bi­ol­o­gists across north­ern New Eng­land are dust­ing off their plans for deal­ing with a fa­tal dis­ease that has been spread­ing across North Amer­ica for a half-cen­tury and was re­cently dis­cov­ered again on a Cana­dian game farm.

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