In Missouri, CWD monitoring at forefront amid deer season

ST. LOUIS — It’s a “crying shame,” according to Matt Bryant of New Melle.

It’s not that he’s bothered by having to drive over to the Weldon Spring Conservation Area to have the deer he killed tested. But the fact that Missouri’s deer population is up against a disease that’s fatal in 100 percent of the cases makes him a little mad.

Bryant was one of more than 100 hunters that dropped by the site last weekend for the mandatory testing on harvested deer to see if the animals have chronic wasting disease.

The Missouri Department of Conservation mandated the testing in an effort to continue tracking how widespread the disease is in the state, and where the infected animals were found.

St. Charles County is one of 25 counties in Missouri where hunters were required to have deer harvested last weekend tested for the neurological disease so the conservation department can get a snapshot of the disease. There have been confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease in Franklin and Jefferson counties, and just more than 40 cases of the fatal disease statewide.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that a deer can carry chronic wasting disease for years before it shows symptoms, according to Jessi Tapp, a wildlife biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. By the time the deer starts to show symptoms – serious weight loss and stumbling – it will likely die within a week.

“There’s no magic cure, but by tracking it we can get a precise idea where it is,” said Dan Zarlenga, media specialist for the Conservation Department. “And if we can track it close enough, we can do some things like (reducing limitations on the number of deer hunters can kill) to get the population down in those areas.”

While there’s no proof that chronic wasting disease is transferable to humans, Zarlenga said the Centers for Disease Control still suggests hunters not eat the deer meat until the tests come back.

The results take about four to six weeks, but the testing was a quick affair.

Hunters drove up with deer in the back of their pickups, and a flock of Department of Conservation employees helped get the paperwork together. They asked the specific location the animal was killed, so they would know where to monitor if the test comes back positive.

Meanwhile, a state employee cut the deer’s neck open and removed two lymph nodes, putting them in labeled bags to send for testing at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and confirmation testing in Colorado.

That Saturday, the St. Charles County site collected samples from 149 deer. By the next afternoon, it had collected about 40 more, Zarlenga said.

The state began mandatory testing during the 2016 hunting season, and collected more than 19,000 samples statewide. The Department of Conservation has done voluntary testing since the early 2000s.

Stopping in to test a buck and a doe that he shot in St. Charles County, Wentzville resident Mitch Buskin said that testing is “the right thing to do.”

“I’m happy to do whatever I can,” he said. “Whatever we (hunters) can do to make sure it’s safe.”

Tapp said the state department rarely hears complaints about the testing process. In fact, some hunters seem to like the camaraderie, she said.

A few hunters lingered after their deer were done with testing so they could check out the haul in the pickup that was pulling in behind. All hunters were required to present their deer, but those who wanted to get the animal mounted were not subject to testing since the test involves a cut higher up on the deer’s neck. Fawns were also excluded from testing.

Zarlenga said last year’s testing was mandatory, but it wasn’t enforced. This year, however, state conservation agents are monitoring social media and other tools to see if there were deer that weren’t presented. Violators will receive citations, he said.

“This helps us get an idea of the prevalence, so we appreciate everyone’s cooperation,” Zarlenga said.

The Department of Conservation will continue to offer voluntary testing through the season for hunters who want to contribute to the research efforts.

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