Managing Chronic Wasting Disease

During the month of November 2016, the State of Missouri's waterfowl and deer hunting seasons opened to the public. Tim James, a Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife management biologist, helped manage both hunting seasons in Boone County and also led a team of MDC employees during special testing for chronic wasting disease. CWD is a 100% fatal degenerative brain disease that could decimate Missouri's $1 billion hunting industry if not quelled. Leading up to the opening weekend of deer season, James balanced his typical duties with the additional ones demanded by CWD testing. At the end of winter 2016/17, 29 counties across Missouri had collected 25,000 samples with nine samples coming back positive for the disease. None of the deer in James's area of management tested positive, but despite a clean record for Boone County, he says the only good news would be the complete removal of the disease across all of Missouri.

 

Part 1

 Tim James rummages through the toolbox of his state-issued pickup truck while working at Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area. As a wildlife management biologist, James is responsible for taking care of 11,000 acres of public land in Boone County and spends a lot of his time traveling the county ensuring conservation areas remain in top shape.

Tim James rummages through the toolbox of his state-issued pickup truck while working at Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area. As a wildlife management biologist, James is responsible for taking care of 11,000 acres of public land in Boone County and spends a lot of his time traveling the county ensuring conservation areas remain in top shape.

 Heading southbound on Highway 63 in Boone County, a pair of work gloves rests near the center console of James's pickup truck. He often spends an entire day, from before sunrise to past sundown, working out of his truck. Due to the nature of his job, his truck functions as much like an office as his actual cubicle at the MDC headquarters on Gans Road.

Heading southbound on Highway 63 in Boone County, a pair of work gloves rests near the center console of James's pickup truck. He often spends an entire day, from before sunrise to past sundown, working out of his truck. Due to the nature of his job, his truck functions as much like an office as his actual cubicle at the MDC headquarters on Gans Road.

 At around 5:00 a.m., before the first morning draw of waterfowl season, James rubs elbows with the hunters who have come out to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area for a chance to hunt. James has been working waterfowl season at Eagle Bluffs for 18 years and has gotten to know many of the regular hunters on a personal level.

At around 5:00 a.m., before the first morning draw of waterfowl season, James rubs elbows with the hunters who have come out to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area for a chance to hunt. James has been working waterfowl season at Eagle Bluffs for 18 years and has gotten to know many of the regular hunters on a personal level.

 At Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area, James is responsible for keeping the shooting range clean of spent casings and destroyed targets. He will occasionally run into scrappers who collect brass casings from the area, which he praises because the metal can be recycled. The range is significantly more busy leading up to and during hunting seasons.

At Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area, James is responsible for keeping the shooting range clean of spent casings and destroyed targets. He will occasionally run into scrappers who collect brass casings from the area, which he praises because the metal can be recycled. The range is significantly more busy leading up to and during hunting seasons.

 Work hours for Tim James can be odd. During duck season he often has to wake up by 4:00 a.m. to get to a hunting draw on time, and then never finds another opportunity to sleep until the next night. Because he is always working dozens of miles from his home, James will pounce on any opportunity to take a nap, whether its in his truck or simply on the ground.

Work hours for Tim James can be odd. During duck season he often has to wake up by 4:00 a.m. to get to a hunting draw on time, and then never finds another opportunity to sleep until the next night. Because he is always working dozens of miles from his home, James will pounce on any opportunity to take a nap, whether its in his truck or simply on the ground.

 After a brief outing on Little Dixie Lake, James, alongside William Ferguson and Alex Geiger, return a boat back to shore. During a mid-day slow period of chronic wasting disease testing, James unlocked a boat, which had been chained down for winter, and allowed two MDC employees to row out and collect fishing bobbers that had become stuck out on the lake.

After a brief outing on Little Dixie Lake, James, alongside William Ferguson and Alex Geiger, return a boat back to shore. During a mid-day slow period of chronic wasting disease testing, James unlocked a boat, which had been chained down for winter, and allowed two MDC employees to row out and collect fishing bobbers that had become stuck out on the lake.

 James pulls a dead deer back into the bed of a pickup truck after his crew removed lymph nodes from its neck as part of mandatory testing for chronic wasting disease. During the two days of testing, James worked as the site leader at Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area.

James pulls a dead deer back into the bed of a pickup truck after his crew removed lymph nodes from its neck as part of mandatory testing for chronic wasting disease. During the two days of testing, James worked as the site leader at Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area.


Part 2

During testing for chronic wasting disease, a hunter brings their kill to a testing location and, after giving permission to remove samples, MDC employees cut out two lymph nodes from the neck of the deer. Based on information provided by the hunter and collected from the deer, the age, sex and location of the animal is imprinted in a bar code and attached to the bag containing the lymph nodes. Coolers of the organs were then shipped off to a lab in Colorado to be tested. Though testing for chronic wasting was mandatory during opening weekend, hunters interested in mounting their deer were given an option to forego testing to avoid ruining the cape, or neck area, of their trophy.

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Part 3

For two consecutive nights during the opening weekend of deer season, 20 MDC employees at Little Dixie Lake awaited the influx of kills coming in after dark. On the first day, the crew tested over 100 deer, and that number doubled by the end of the testing period. None of the deer at Little Dixie tested positive for chronic wasting disease, and of the 25,000 deer tested during Missouri's 2016 season, only nine had the disease. Hunting is a vital part of Missouri culture, with more than half a million people participating in deer hunting each year. Although a minute number of deer currently have CWD in Missouri, the MDC and other agencies understand that preemptive action is the only way to avoid a potentially devastating breakout. As techniques become more efficient and more data is collected, the fight against chronic wasting disease will evolve, but until eradication is achieved the efforts of conservationists will not cease.

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