Intensive CWD surveillance continues in Ohio

The good news is, Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, will not decimate Ohio’s deer herd. The bad news is, it may decimate deer hunting.

That was the nub of a presentation by Ray Petering, state wildlife chief, in a recent Q&A session with the Outdoor Writers of Ohio during OWO’s annual conference, held this year at Akron.

Petering retraced the latest analysis of carcasses of deer killed in Holmes County, focus of a widely reported CWD outbreak on a wayward commercial deer farm: No CWD has been found in deer “in the wild,” that is, outside the fence. Twelve townships in the county are under intense surveillance and sampling of deer taken or found dead there.

Petering said that if the continued surveillance through next fall’s seasons shows the same result, no CWD in the wild, the surveillance program will end.

For human health, he noted, the scary part is that CWD in deer is related to the infamous mad cow disease in beef-cattle that killed some people in Great Britain some years ago. Mad cow disease is rooted in mutated proteins that are hard to wipe out once in the environment, the chief noted. But to this point in time, he acknowledged, no research has shown that CWD in deer harms humans, unlike mad cow disease. Still, it is common sense not to eat the venison of a suspect animal.

Nonetheless, it is the specter of human health impact that hangs over CWD’s spread into wild herds, Petering said. “It won’t decimate the deer herd,” he said of the disease’s slow, erratic spread. “But it will decimate deer hunting.” No one need explain further to the outdoors public the dire implications of such a development.

The issue over the spread of CWD through 20-plus states and a couple of Canadian provinces long has been blamed on careless trading of infected captive deer across state lines. Captive-reared bucks can bring big financial bucks on game-farm or “preserve,” hunts, which are hunts in name only. They actually are nothing but high-dollar vanity games and ego trips.

But Petering noted that the deer-trade issue is complex, for it is easy to hide or mask transport or high-dollar trophy bucks or does with trophy blood lines. Incidents have arisen, for example, of captive deer sneaked through agricultural inspection points in trailers masquerading as NASCAR race-team units.

The hard part here, the chief noted, is that the Ohio Division of Wildlife has no statutory authority over the interstate transport of captive deer. That, of course, opens a whole other can of political worms, as state lawmakers focused selfishly and foolishly on the short-term, and bent only on jobs and the economy — regardless of the cost to environment or nature — have been reluctant to address the issue in the face of a captive deer-business lobby.

So don’t expect any help from the Statehouse, or the lame-duck governor’s administration. Just keep your fingers crossed.

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