Stop the CWD Madness

In mid August, a trophy bull elk was shot by the Pennsylvania Game Commission after it wandered into an area that had recently contained white-tailed deer that had tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Here is the press release on the event. They don’t say anything about the bull looking unhealthy. The lack of details or a picture of the elk worries me. If a person not associated with the Game Commission had gone out and shot that bull, they would have gotten a hefty fine and lost their hunting license. In my eyes, the state does not own that animal, so for all intensive purposes, they poached it from the hunting public. Would they have done the same thing if it was a cow or a spike?

The value of an animal both intrinsic and actual depend on it being there for us to enjoy. They shot this bull because he may have the potential to spread CWD. It wasn’t like he looked sick and killing him was necessary. Where does it end? Norway is working on a plan to ERADICATE a herd of 2,000 reindeer because 3 of them tested positive for CWD. Then they plan on keeping reindeer out of that area for 5 years. What happens when they reintroduce reindeer to that area in 2022 and another one tests positive? Are they going to wipe the herd out AGAIN?!? This line of thought that goes from ‘deer have CWD’ to ‘how do we remove CWD?’ well we need to ‘remove deer’ will never work because of the spontaneity of CWD. Even with double fencing and the healthiest deer on the planet, CWD is still a risk ANYWHERE.

The amount of fear mongering over Chronic Wasting Disease has reached a point of idiocrasy. So, animals are no longer allowed to disperse? I’m not saying that CWD is of no concern, I’m saying we are taking precautions that will ultimately damage hunting more than CWD running its course. If you take too much of a precautionary stance, the line of reasoning might end up like this: Humans might someday contract CWD, so therefore, we should kill off all the deer and save humanity. Hunting will end and deer will be seen as varmints. People will stop eating venison, even from healthy deer.

Why do we shoot healthy animals in the hopes of lowering the chance of possible disease expansion, when the disease epidemiology has shown that random and spontaneous cases occur every year? The amount of healthy deer mercilessly slaughtered in order to increase sample size or track current prevalence rates, far outnumbers the actual amount of deer or elk that have the disease. Time and time again, states that had not found CWD, then suddenly find it, waste a lot of time, effort, and money trying to control it. In reality, they are doing nothing productive to slow the spread. Hey Wisconsin: how is that feeding ban working out for you in the CWD zone? (See WI CWD Prevalence rates, feeding ban went into effect in 2002).

CWD has been here in the US for many years, and it is not going away anytime soon. Some modelers have suggested that if CWD prevalence rates get too high, then population level effects will arise, which may lead to extinction of the species. The problem with modeling is that a 10% prevalence rates does not add an additional 10% to mortality rate, because many of those animals die from things other than CWD. CWD takes long enough for an animal to become sick that most animals die from hunters, predators, or cars before they get to the point of lameness caused by CWD.

We need to have meaningful research conducted in areas that ALREADY have CWD. In those areas, comparing results of management strategies will help determine if there is anything that can be done to free ranging deer to lower the prevalence of CWD. Researchers should find two large sections of land in southwest Wisconsin that are in the heart of the CWD zone. Prevalence rates here are some of the highest in the world.  In one area, try adding 1 mineral site per 80 acres as well as have one supplemental feed site per 100 acres. Continue that research over several years to determine if increasing nutritional availability will reduce CWD prevalence. To my knowledge, this has never been conducted. It would also be interesting to manipulate deer density within each study zone to see if there is a reduction in CWD prevalence with a herd reduction strategy. In my eyes, feeding deer and shooting a bunch will speed up the natural process of selection. Some deer out there may have a genetic resistance, and it will take thousands of years for the process to take full effect via natural selection. I don’t want to wait that long. Keeping a low deer density combined with supplemental feeding will maximize the health of each deer as well as improve habitat. Whenever an animal is not getting enough of a certain nutrient, they can be adversely effected. Making sure they have everything they need to be healthy makes sense.

Here is a good example of how animals can be effected by not having adequate mineral levels:

Maybe if we keep our reaction to CWD from being overpowered by fear, we will learn to make progress in the fight against CWD. I just hope someday these state agencies will stop the madness.

-Tim Neuman, Wildlife Biologist

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