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.
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.
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.