by Mark Carter
On the cusp of modern-gun deer season, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission officials are recruiting hunters to help keep chronic wasting disease from becoming prevalent in the state.
Game and Fish commemorated the opening of the season this weekend with its 12thannual Media Day on Thursday at the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center in downtown Little Rock, and the emphasis was on CWD. AGFC expects more than 400,000 Arkansans to hit the woods this weekend, and the commission is recruiting hunters to help slow the spread of the fatal disease. CWD is not yet widespread in Arkansas, and officials want to keep it that way.
This year, CWD testing locations will be located in each of the state’s 75 counties. Testing isn’t mandatory but is available for free at drop-off containers, AGFC field offices and processors. Jennifer Ballard, state wildlife veterinarian for AGFC, says the commission needs hunters to act as its eyes on the ground to help identify affected deer and keep the fatal disease isolated in the northwest corner of the state.
“We need hunters to help us conduct surveillance,” she says.
CWD was first confirmed in Arkansas in February 2016 when an elk harvested the previous fall in Newton County tested positive. Later that month, a white-tailed deer was found sick near Ponca in Newton County, and it tested positive as well. Since then, 619 cases of CWD have been confirmed in Arkansas deer and elk with more than half the cases coming from deer in Newton County. CWD has been confirmed in 24 states, mostly in the Midwest and into the Rocky Mountain region, in both free-ranging and captive populations.
In Arkansas, the disease has been confirmed in 12 counties. The state’s CWD “hot spot” is the four-county area entailing Newton, Madison, Carroll and Boone counties. This area accounts for all but 36 cases.
CWD is a fatal, transmissible neurological disease affecting members of the deer and elk families. Similar to “mad cow disease” in cattle, it is believed to be caused by “misfolded” prion proteins, Ballard says, that can be passed directly from animal to animal and indirectly through the environment. These bad prions accumulate in animals’ nervous system and lymphoid tissues which include the brain, spinal cord, eyes, lymph nodes and spleen, and then are shed through saliva, blood, urine and feces.
No scientific evidence exists that shows CWD can be transmitted to humans, pets or livestock under natural conditions, according to AGFC. But feeding meat from afflicted wildlife to domestic animals is not recommended. In fact, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that in areas where CWD is known to be present, hunters should have their deer tested for CWD before eating the meat, and should dispose of meat from animals that test positive for the disease.
Afflicted animals may not show signs of the disease for up to a year or more. In advanced stages, they will begin to lose weight rapidly and may stand with an awkward posture that includes legs spread apart and a lowered head with uncoordinated movement. Other symptoms include drooling and excessive drinking and urination. Sick animals also are likely to be found alone.
In addition to providing ground-level surveillance, Ballard says hunters can help through reduced baiting and feeding, which concentrates wildlife and increases the likelihood of the disease spreading.
A list of testing locations, procedures required for testing and instructions for moving harvested deer and elk are available at AGFC.com/CWD.