Biologists say there are two kinds of states, those that have confirmed Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, and those that will.
Now that Mississippi has joined the former, and is the 25th state added to the growing list that also includes three Canadian provinces, it can rely on other CWD-confirmed states as biologists here continue the response plan.
That is important since the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks’ response plan is very fluid in its infancy, and will likely evolve in many different directions.
“We have already met with Mississippi and Louisiana (within two weeks of the Issaquena County confirmation), and have shared information with them,” said Cory Gray, director of the Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. “They are where we were two years ago and they are right that it’s a step-by-step process. They are in the very first step.
“I use an example of equating it to a doctor’s visit. First you get your blood work and let’s say it comes back out of normal. Then you do more testing and eventually develop a treatment plan for whatever ailment it is.”
Gray was the deer project coordinator in Arkansas when the disease appeared in 2016, and then was appointed to lead the Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division created in 2017 to lead the response to CWD.
Gray said he hopes the next round of testing goes better for Mississippi than it did for Arkansas after it found an elk and a doe deer within weeks of each other in 2016. Mississippi has sent over 60 samples from the containment area to be tested, and expects results back this week.
Arkansas’ first test was much bigger.
“We planned to test 300 animals in the core area (extreme northwest Arkansas),” Gray said. “We were at 266 when we stopped; we’d found a 23- percent rate of infection and we knew we had a major problem. We stopped testing and began planning. I hope they don’t find that level of prevalence.”
Gray said public information is vital.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep the public informed and part of the process,” Gray said. “We communicated, communicated and communicated. During the sampling, we had weekly meetings kind of like town hall meetings in the core area. We promised them we would keep in touch. We held statewide meetings.
“We held 23 or 24 public meetings, trying to communicate. One of the first things we were told by other states with CWD is that we had to have support of Arkansans. If we don’t have the support we’re fools. Some say we have over-communicated but we didn’t, and we did it with a measured response. We didn’t want to come across as panicky and we didn’t want to appear secretive. Our public has been responsive and helpful. That’s key.”
MDWFP wildlife bureau executive director Russ Walsh agreed, saying the agency’s plan includes much public interaction through meetings, social media, radio and news releases.
“This was just the first of what I expect to be many meetings, and not just in the immediate area of impact,” he said. “We have to keep our guard up statewide.