Mississippi’s efforts to contain chronic wasting disease (CWD) in deer is set to undergo some changes, according to proposals passed last week by the Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks.

The biggest news is that the CWD containment zone will be lessened by defining its borders by highways and rivers instead of county lines.

According to MDWFP Wildlife Bureau Executive Director Russ Walsh, the new containment zone would be defined as all areas: south of Mississippi Highways 14 and 16; areas west of the Yazoo River; all portions of Warren County; and all areas east of the Mississippi River. 

In other words, the zone will be bordered to the west by the Mississippi River, to the east by the Yazoo River and Warren County lines, to the north by Highways 14 and 16, and to the south by the Warren County line.

Once the proposal receives final approval at the August Commission meeting, only those areas within the newly defined zone would continue to have a ban on supplemental feedings and permits will still have to be obtained for the trapping of wild hogs.

Hinds and Claiborne County would fall out of the CWD zone altogether, as would small parts of Issaquena County and Sharkey County, and a large piece of Yazoo County, and those areas would no longer have a ban on feeding or require permits to trap wild hogs.

The original CWD containment zone, established after a single mature buck became the first — and to date only — confirmed case of the deadly disease was found in Issaquena County. Any county that was touched by a 25-mile circle around the site where the sick deer died was included in its entirety. Supplemental feeding was immediately banned and permits required for trapping hogs (bait could only be placed inside traps).

Although nearly 2,000 deer have been tested since October 2017, only the one positive test was confirmed. CWD is a 100-percent fatal disease that affects cervids, like white-tailed deer, elk, moose and mule deer. Mississippi is the 26th state to have a positive test for CWD.

According to Walsh, the proposals also include how deer killed during the 2018-19 season can be transported. The only portions of a harvested deer that would be legally removed from the proposed zone are:

* meat from cervids that has been completely deboned, which then could be processed outside the zone.

* antlers, or antlers attached to a cleaned skull plates or cleaned skulls where no tissue is attached to the skull.

* cleaned teeth.

* finished taxidermy and antler products.

* hides and tanned products.

Asked if any consideration had been given to the availability of testing for hunters in that area or any area this season, Walsh said yes.

“We have a sampling plan with a target of 5,000 deer, 1,000 from within (the CWD zone) and 4,000 from outside,” he answered. “There will be drop-off locations around the state for hunters to deposit heads for testing.”

Walsh said that check-in stations will be established within the CWD zone on peak hunting days, such as opening day of the gun season; the Friday after Thanksgiving; December 29-30; and January 5-6.

“According to our survey data and local knowledge, those are high-traffic days,” Walsh said. “If (CWD) is here or somewhere else, we hope to find it.”

He also indicated that the agency is no longer killing deer to sample.

“We have stopped targeted sampling operations,” Walsh said. “However, we continue to collect road-killed and diseased deer samples. We are shifting focus to hunter-harvested samples during the 2018-2019 season.”

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In a somewhat related announcement, the Nature Conservancy of Mississippi announced Friday that it and the MDWFP had completed the purchase of 17,816 contiguous acres of wildlife habitat in the South Delta from the Anderson-Tully Timber Company. 

Adjacent to the Mahannah Wildlife Management Area, the land is located in Warren and Issaquena County in the CWD Zone. Combined, Mahannah and the for-now-named Steele Bayou WMA, will give MDWFP a total of 30,511 contiguous acres. That is second in size only to the Pascagoula WMA, which has 37,415 acres and was purchased in the same fashion with help from the Nature Conservancy.  

The MDWFP has announced no plans for its development of the Steele Bayou WMA, but it is doubtful it can be opened to hunters by the 2018-19 hunting season.

“That bothers me a little, because that area needs to be hunted,” said neighboring landowner Jeff Terry of nearby Eagle Lake Community. “This area can’t afford to go a season without hunting on that land. We are just getting our deer herd under control and with Mahannah being a permit-only deer hunting WMA, that’s going to mean an explosion of deer. That’s going to hurt those of us in the farming business.

“Don’t get me wrong. I am all for the state getting this property and it will be great for generations to come. There simply isn’t going to be any more blocks of land like this available for the public. It’s great and I’m excited for the future hunters of this state.”

According to the Conservancy, the MDWFP used existing funding, and federal grants for its part of the purchase, and that the MDWFP would repay the Conservancy over the next three to four years for its purchase of the other 7,000 acres.

The Conservancy said the Caterpillar Foundation, the MDWFP Foundation and Entergy also contributed to the purchase.