A disease that has infected deer in 25 states would be “disastrous” to Tennessee’s $100 million deer-hunting industry if it makes its way here, and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is working hard to keep it out.
A large portion of last month’s Game & Fish Commission meeting was devoted to a discussion about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), its impact on deer in other states, and measures the TWRA is taking to try to keep it from spreading into Tennessee.
Included in the presentation by TWRA officer Chuck Yoest were graphic photos of piles of deer that had died or been killed by wildlife officials in one state to try to contain the disease.
“It’s fatal to every infected deer, and once it’s here, it’s here to stay,” Yoest told the Commissioners. “We don’t have it in our state, but it is a serious threat.”
CWD attacks the brain and nervous system of the animal, and there is no cure once it is infected. The disease is limited to cervids (deer, elk, caribou and moose) and is not transmitted to humans or domestic livestock.
CWD should not be confused with Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) which struck deer herds in several Tennessee counties a few years ago. That disease, also known as “Bluetongue” occurs naturally, usually during periods of prolonged drought. It is limited in scope and eventually runs its course.
CWD on the other hand, can’t be cured or eradicated, only somewhat contained.
Yoest said CWD can be spread in a number of ways, including the unsupervised movement of captive deer and elk into new areas.
The disease can also be introduced through the importation of carcasses, heads and hides. With deer season at hand, hunters who plan to hunt out-of-state are reminded about strict regulations regarding bringing their kills into Tennessee.
The basic rule prohibits importing a complete carcass. The meat must be boned out and the heads and hides cleaned. Detailed regulations are listed in the Tennessee Hunting & Trapping guide and on the TWRA website, tnwildlife.org
Yoest said any hunter caught bringing an “unclean carcass” into the state will be prosecuted.
Yoest said there are studies indicating that the disease can also be spread through feeders and commercial deer-urine attractor scents used by many hunters. Some states prohibit the use of such scents, but so far there is no such ban in Tennessee.
How does the TWRA check for illegal imports and monitor the state’s herd to make sure the disease is not already present?
Carcasses are randomly inspected at processing plants and taxidermist shops, and field officers take samples of dead specimens found in the wild for lab inspection.
Each deer taken to a processing plant or taxidermist must have a “kill tag” certifying when and where it was killed. Animals killed out-of-state are carefully inspected.
Some 1,500 deer were inspected last year, no CWD was found, and Yoest is confident that the state’s herd is disease-free – so far. But, he warned, just one infected animal can introduce CWD into the state.
“It is something we have to stay on top of,” he said. “If we wait to address it until it’s here, it’ll be too late.”