In Iowa, CWD concerns draw a full house
Elkader, Iowa — Johnson’s Reception Hall in Elkader hosted a standing-room-only crowd of hunters, landowners and area residents on Monday night who were there to learn about chronic wasting disease and then gave their thoughts on how they wanted to address it.
Meanwhile, the Allamakee County scientific collection effort that ended Feb. 5 has found a positive deer that was taken near Waterville. It is the 18th wild deer to test positive for chronic wasting disease. Volunteers collected 263 deer in the target area of Allamakee County, of which 203 were adults and 60 were fawns. The DNR only submits adult deer samples for testing in an effort to maximize the chance of finding the disease.
The meeting was prompted after a deer harvested during the 2016 hunting season in west-central Clayton County tested positive for chronic wasting disease. It was the first wild deer that tested positive for chronic wasting disease outside of Allamakee County.
Dr. Dale Garner, who oversees the Conservation and Recreation Division of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and has been involved with monitoring for the disease in Iowa since its arrival in Wisconsin in 2001, was the main speaker during the nearly three hour meeting.
Garner said chronic wasting disease involves a misshapen protein called a prion, and since it is a protein, a deer’s body does not recognize it as a foreign substance, so it does not produce an antibody response.
“The disease is spread from animal to animal through nose to nose contact and through environmental contamination from urine, feces and saliva left by positive deer. It is nearly impossible kill the prion and the disease is always fatal,” Garner said.
“We hope to collect 250 to 300 samples from mature deer from a specific area and that will do two things – provide information on specific areas in the target zone where we do not have any data and to remove animals from the area where a CWD-positive deer has been found,” he said.
Participants will be required to provide the lymph nodes and will be notified of the test results. Once a sample is submitted, it can take anywhere from three days to two to three weeks to get results back.
The collection effort will be Feb. 18 to March 5, and headquartered at the Clayton County Conservation Board’s Osborne Nature Center, five miles south of Elkader on Hwy. 13. The Clayton County focus area extends west of Elkader about 10 miles and, with the exception of the 43-acre Big Spring Wildlife Area, nearly all of the deer collection will take place on privately owned land.
“There is no good news when it comes to chronic wasting disease. We know that if we leave it alone, it’s going to spread. By removing adult deer, we are trying to target animals that are most likely to carry the prion, which will slow the spread of the disease while still allowing for quality deer hunting experiences each fall,” Garner said.
Participants must have a scientific collectors permit and tags and must contact the DNR within 24 hours of collecting deer to arrange for sample collection. There is no fee for the permits. Participants may use shotguns, muzzleloaders, bows and rifles .24 caliber and larger. All other regulations, including the blaze orange requirement and shooting hours restrictions, apply.
Participation is voluntary and there are ways other than removing deer to help slow the spread of CWD in this area.
“We encourage everyone to not use piles of feed or salt-mineral licks to attract deer. These baited sites increase the concentration of deer which facilitates transmission of the disease,” said Garner. “And don’t leave a carcass or bones from this region to decay on the land. Place remains in heavy-duty plastic garbage bags to be properly disposed of in a landfill.”
The Iowa DNR began collecting deer tissue samples in 2002 after the CWD outbreak in Wisconsin. Since then, more than 61,000 samples from wild deer and 4,000 samples from hunting preserve deer have been collected and tested.
Chronic wasting disease is not just an Iowa issue; Minnesota has had a spike in deer testing positive for the disease as well. Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin are all battling this disease.
The estimated audience of 375 spent about 45 minutes asking questions ranging from baiting versus food plots, about the possibility of live testing animals, and whether or not hunters should keep using bottled urine to attract deer.
“There is no practical live test for chronic wasting disease available for free ranging wild deer,” Garner said. “And healthy looking deer can carry chronic wasting disease from 16 months to three years before showing clinical signs.”
He said it is possible for bottled urine collected from a CWD positive deer to contain the prions and encouraged hunters who use the bottled urine and are concerned about spreading the disease to look for products with the Archery Trade Association seal. “It’s not 100 percent, but those products have a higher standard of testing,” he said.
After the meeting, hunters and landowners mingled with state wildlife experts to discuss their specific situations.