Without a doubt, the arrival of chronic wasting disease in Mississippi ranks as the No. 1 outdoors story over the past decade. Since the first case was verified in January 2018, the state has confirmed 60 CWD cases, with two more suspected cases awaiting final confirmation.
The numbers are not the big part of the story. Rather, it’s the impact CWD has had on deer hunting in the Magnolia State. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has created two CWD management zones and established tight restrictions for them.
MDWFP instituted mandatory check-in days inside both those zones as well as in other areas.
Supplemental feeding was curtailed within the area, and the transportation of deer killed in CWD zones has been limited basically to deboned meat, and heads that have been completely cleaned to the bone.
The first zone, known as Issaquena, was created immediately after the 2018 discovery of a wild, native, mature buck in Issaquena County. It was reported from a hunting camp near Eagle Lake after a hunter watched the sick animal walking erratically, collapse and die.
A second deer was found in Issaquena County in 2019, and shortly thereafter, a new area of concern developed. Called the North CWD Management Zone, this large area encompasses much of north-central Mississippi, with CWD confirmed in five counties. With the cases widespread, a total of 19 counties are included in the zone.
Two northern tier counties on the Tennessee border have become the hot spot, Benton with 39 cases and Marshall with 16 — a total of 55 of Mississippi’s 60 cases. CWD has also been certified in one deer each in Pontotoc, Panola and Tallahatchie counties.
The second biggest story of the decade also relates to deer hunting. Big surprise, eh? This one is the spread of supplemental feeding to the point that it is an accepted management practice that is arguably used for the illegal practice of baiting deer.
While the law still prohibits “hunting deer over bait” per se, the relaxed rules for supplemental feeding that have evolved over the past 10 years make the baiting rule impossible to enforce. Laws changed from not being able to hunt within 500 yards or in line of sight of a feeder, to simply not in line of sight to no restriction on distance or line of sight. The only law regarding distance is that the feeding site must be at least 100 yards from a property boundary. Feeding is only allowed on private land and only permitted with the use of above ground, covered or spin-cast feeders. It can’t be scattered on the ground.
South Delta flooding
No. 3 is the impact of backwater flooding in Mississippi’s South Delta that occurred in 2018 (450,000 acres) and 2019 (550,000 acres). All species of game and non-game animals in the region were chased from their homes, as more than a quarter-million acres of farmland and thousands of forested acres were underwater for up to six months. Crops were lost. Houses were flooded. Animals both drowned and starved to death.
Death of the Extravaganza
A flood-related boycott also led to the demise of one of Mississippi’s top outdoor traditions —the Mississippi Wildlife Extravaganza in Jackson. That’s the No. 4 story.
Its sponsor, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation, was a long-time opponent of the completion of pumps designed to prevent flooding inside the levees built around the South Delta by pumping out rainwater.
The Federation has backed off its opposition, and there is now widespread support for the installation of the pumps, but that was too late for the Extravaganza, which suffered miserably in 2019 when about half of its exhibitors were no-shows, and the gate was below half its normal 30,000 visitors over the three-day event.
Shortly after its conclusion, the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, which operates the Fairgrounds and Trade Mart, withdrew its lease agreement with the Federation and gave it to the Foundation for the MDWFP, a private support group for the state wildlife agency, which scheduled a 2020 wildlife show for the same time period — the first weekend in August. The Federation was forced to settle for a scaled-down show at a new location.
As fate would have it, neither show took place because of COVID-19 restrictions, but the Federation has filed a lawsuit over the matter that has yet to be settled.
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