‘It’s not going away’

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As CWD positives grow, DNR plans special hunt to collect additional samples

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

In an effort to learn about and stem the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), the Iowa DNR will hold a special collection hunt in a targeted surveillance area near Harpers Ferry, after nine more wild deer killed in Allamakee County in 2016 tested positive for the disease.

The additional positive tests brought the total number of confirmed cases of CWD in wild deer in the area to 15. The first deer to test positive was killed in 2013, followed by three more in 2014 and two in 2015. 

For the hunt, which began Saturday, Jan. 21 and will run through Sunday, Feb. 5, participants will be issued special scientific collection permits at no cost for sections in southeast ern Allamakee County and a small portion in the northeastern corner of Clayton County. There will be a quota of 50 deer for public lands in order to prevent over-harvesting.

Permits can be obtained at the Allamakee County Conservation Office in Harpers Ferry, at 427 N. First St., between noon and 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on weekends. Non-residents are not eligible.

As of Friday night, said DNR Wildlife Biologist Terry Haindfield, 45 group permits had been issued representing 334 tags.

By getting 250 to 300 additional samples in the area, the DNR hopes to increase its knowledge of the distribution and prevalence of CWD, which is a neurological disease that primarily affects deer and elk. Caused by an abnormal protein, or prion, that attacks the brain, CWD induces weight loss, abnormal behavior and a loss of bodily functions in infected animals. The disease is spread both environmentally and from animal to animal. 

“We want to focus on sections where positives exist and sections with limited data,” said DNR Wildlife Bureau Chief Dr. Dale Garner, who spoke at a public meeting in Harpers Ferry Jan. 18. Another meeting was held later that day in Waukon. “We want to collect additional samples with help from landowners and the public.”

Since 2002, the DNR has collected over 61,000 wild deer samples across Iowa, with much of that effort concentrated in eastern Iowa, as it borders Wisconsin and Illinois, which both have CWD. In the last few years, over 1,000 samples have been collected in Allamakee County, Garner said. Some of those came from a similar special collection hunt held in Feb. 2015. Road kills have also been tested.

According to Garner, during the past year, 400 deer were tested in the target area in Allamakee County, with 150 more tested in the county outside that area. In Clayton County, 500 samples were tested, as well.

Taking more samples could also lessen the spread of CWD, commented Haindfield. 

“We want to remove infected deer,” he said, noting that turning over the population and creating a younger age structure of deer helps with that. “Don’t let them get to be 4- to 6-year-old does or 8-year-old bucks. If an animal gets CWD at age 3 and lives to be 8, it could spread [CWD] that whole time. If you’ve got an area with a lot of older deer, remove some of those and help us out.”

Haindfield said the DNR’s goal through the special hunt is not to decimate the county’s deer population. Many DNR officials are deer hunters too, he shared, “so our goals are the same. We want a healthy deer herd.”

“Iowa has one of the best whitetail deer populations in the nation,” added DNR Director Chuck Gipp, who also  attended the meeting. “It’s important for the deer health in Iowa—for recreation and as a food source—to get CWD under control.”

Garner said the DNR is leaving it up to landowners whether they would like to participate in the hunt or not. If hunters choose not to, that’s OK, he said, but there are other things they can do to help.

That includes calling in road kills. Since the disease affects the brain, Garner remarked, something else (like a car accident) could kill the animal first. 

After harvesting a deer, Garner said it’s important for hunters to consider what they do with the carcass, as well. Don’t leave it on your property, he advised, where if infected, it could compromise other deer. 

“Once it’s on the landscape, it stays for a long time,” he said of the CWD prions.

In addition, said Garner, “think about what you’re doing with mineral and salt. A congregation of animals at the same space facilitates the transmission of the disease.”

Combatting CWD is ultimately a cooperative effort, Garner shared. 

“Everyone has to play a part. What you choose to do or not to do will affect future generations,” he said. “If we leave it alone, we know what we’re going to get. It’s not going away.”

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