Mississippi hunters need to understand the disease, how government agencies are responding, and why certain decisions are being made
I had something else in mind originally for this column, but the recent happenings regarding the finding of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a Mississippi deer is more important than anything else.
As much as the topic has been covered in recent weeks by every form of media you can think of — since an infected deer was found back in late January — my guess is that most all deer hunters and other interested parties have heard at least something about the serious repercussions that this revelation is causing.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) has had CWD contingency plans in place for a while, and the agency jumped on this once it was confirmed that we had a case of CWD in Mississippi. The Mississippi Department of Health has also gotten involved, and in conjunction with MDWFP, has issued its own guidelines and precautions.
What is it?
When I hear the word “disease”, the first things that come to mind involve a sickness or disorder caused by a living virus or bacteria. When I looked it up in the dictionary, I find that a disease is basically a disorder, condition or affliction that produces specific signs or symptoms. So, in the case of CWD, the disease is a neurological (brain and nervous system) condition found in deer, elk, moose and other members of the Cervidae (deer) family. It has similarities to “mad cow” disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep, and it is always fatal to the infected animal.
Scientists believe that CWD is caused by a malformed or folded protein molecule — a “prion” — that can replicate and infect otherwise normal proteins found in the brains and nervous systems of members of the deer family. The actual scientific name for this neurological disease in deer is transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE).
How is it spread?
CWD is thought to be spread from one deer to another through contaminated body fluids and tissue, or indirectly through the shedding of prions by an infected deer into a source of drinking water or food, which are later ingested or touched by an uninfected deer.
This does not square well with certain hunting traditions and habits that are all too commonplace in Mississippi and surrounding states. One of the biggest problems is that infected prions are extremely stable and resistant to the environment. Prions shed by an infected deer do not easily break down when exposed to weather and environmental factors such as heat, cold, sun or rain. This is terrible news, since deer hunters have become addicted over the years to the use of feeders, mineral licks and stations, and other forms of deer attractants. Additionally, many of us feed our deer supplementally for months at a time or even year-round.
Where was it?
The one CWD-infected deer that has been documented, so far, was an adult buck that was found dead in a food plot on private land in southern Issaquena County on Jan. 25. The hunter who found the buck had previously seen the same animal alive, but acting strangely, and it did not appear healthy. The hunter reported the buck, and upon examination by officials of the MDWFP, the buck tested positive for CWD and was found to have died from pneumonia that resulted from the deer’s weakened state. This is common with CWD infections. Radiating out from “ground zero,” the MDWFP has formulated zone-specific regulations to assess and contain this CWD outbreak. The zones are as follows:
• Containment Zone (CZ). A circle with a 5-mile radius from the location of the CWD-positive deer. There are stringent regulations and recommendations for this “bull’s eye” zone.
• High Risk Zone (HRZ). A circle with a 10-mile radius from the location of the CWD-positive deer. Restrictions are only slightly less in the HRZ when compared to the CZ.
• Buffer Zone (BZ). A circle with a 25-mile radius from the location of the CWD-positive deer.
The biggest takeaway here is that for any county that is contained in even a portion of the three zones, it is no longer legal to utilize any practices that cause unnatural concentration of animals. This prohibition affects all supplemental feeding, use of feeders and troughs of every kind, plus mineral blocks or licks and mineral troughs of every kind.
The individual zonal regulations, prohibitions, and recommendations are too extensive for me to list here. Go to the MDWFP website and pay careful attention to what is being put out.
The MDWFP has formed a CWD Management Zone, centered on the location of the CWD-positive deer. As a result, all supplemental feeding of every kind and all mineral stations are prohibited in the counties of Issaquena, Warren, Yazoo, Sharkey, Claiborne and Hinds. This is a complicated situation, and deer hunters who hunt in or near the affected counties should visit the MDWFP website (www.mdwfp.com) and keep up with what’s happening.