Today's Edition Local Missouri Opinion Obits Sports GoMidMo Events Election '23 Contests Classifieds Public notices Newsletters Jobs NT Magazines Special Sections National World

State removes CWD testing in some management zone counties

by Ryan Pivoney | October 25, 2022 at 4:05 a.m.

A lack of resources is preventing the Missouri Department of Conservation from opening testing sites in four counties considered to be part of the state's Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone.

As the firearms deer season opens Nov. 12 and 13, MDC will require hunters harvesting deer in 34 counties to get their kill tested for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), an infectious disease among deer and other cervids that eventually kills all animals it infects.

Without a vaccine or cure for CWD, Conservation has asked hunters to play a critical role in monitoring and managing the disease since it first appeared in the state's wild deer population in 2012.

The state agency establishes a CWD Management Zone based on the prevalence of the disease across the state in previous years. Hunters in the zone are typically required to have their kills tested for CWD during the opening weekend of the November deer season and can have deer voluntarily tested the rest of the year.

There are 38 counties in the CWD Management Zone this year, but only 34 are required to perform testing Nov. 12 and 13. Gasconade, Knox, St. Charles and Warren counties are in the zone but exempt from testing requirements because the department doesn't have the resources or personnel to establish mandatory testing sites in those counties.

Camden County is the only area in the department's Central District that is in the CWD Management Zone and requires mandatory testing. Gasconade County is also in the Central District and in the CWD Management Zone, but the department isn't requiring testing for deer killed there.

"With 38 counties in the CWD Management Zone this year, we're having to prioritize where to focus our sampling efforts within the zone on opening weekend," Jason Isabelle, MDC cervid program supervisor, said in a news release Monday.

This year's testing efforts are focused on parts of the CWD Management Zone with the greatest risk of having new areas of CWD infection, MDC spokesman Joe Jerek said.

"So yeah that's just resources, staff," he said of the counties without mandatory testing sites.

There are more than 75 testing stations across the 34 counties in the zone, according to the interactive map on MDC's website.

"Some counties have one, some have two or three or even four or five," Jerek said. "It kind of depends on how much CWD we found in that area, how large the area is, how many hunters typically hunt in that area."

Although CWD testing isn't a requirement for hunters in Gasconade, Knox, St. Charles or Warren counties, those wishing to get their harvest tested can bring their deer (or just its head) to one of the testing stations in another county or one of MDC's self-service freezer drop-off locations.

"Although freezer drop-off stations are closed on opening weekend in counties where CWD sampling is mandatory, these stations will remain open in Gasconade, Knox, St. Charles and Warren counties," Isabelle said. "Doing so provides hunters in these CWD Management Zone counties with additional opportunities to have their deer sampled if they so choose."

To be included in the CWD Management Zone, counties had a positive case of CWD discovered there or are within 10 miles of where a case was found.

This year's full list of CWD Management Zone counties includes Adair, Barry, Barton, Camden, Cedar, Chariton, Christian, Clark, Crawford, Franklin, Gasconade, Greene, Hickory, Howell, Jefferson, Knox, Laclede, Linn, Macon, McDonald, Mercer, Oregon, Ozark, Perry, Polk, Pulaski, Putnam, Ripley, St. Charles, St. Clair, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Vernon, Warren and Washington.

Barton, Greene, Ripley and Vernon counties are new to the zone this year.

Opening weekend of the November deer season is "incredibly popular" among hunters, Jerek said. About a third of the state's annual deer harvest is hunted over the course of the two days.

MDC tested more than 32,000 deer for CWD from July 2021 to April 2022, 18,700 of which came from the opening weekend of the November firearms season alone. Of the more than 32,000 deer sampled last season, 86 tested positive for CWD.

Focusing testing efforts on opening weekend gives the department the best opportunity for collecting the most tissue samples in a short time period, according to the department.

"It's literally the biggest bang for our buck -- no pun intended," Jerek said.

The department has received 453 deer for testing over the past three months, 343 came back negative and the other 110 are pending results.

The state has had a total of 292 deer with CWD since MDC noticed the first case in wild deer in 2012. More than 210,000 tissue samples have been tested over the past decade.

CWD is spread through direct deer-to-deer contact, improper disposal of deer carcasses and the environment, according to MDC.

Sampling for the disease consists of MDC staff cutting an incision across the neck of a harvested deer to remove lymph nodes, which are then sent to an independent lab for testing. MDC processes testing results within four weeks and posts them online for free.

The department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don't recommend eating meat that is infected with disease, Jerek said, but ultimately what the hunters do with the animal after testing is up to them.

If a deer tests positive, Jerek said, the department immediately contacts the hunter to share the results. It's up to the hunter to decide what they do with the animal after, he said.

MDC uses the testing data to find cases of CWD and manage the areas where it is present.

The department may approach landowners and work with them on a voluntary basis to mitigate the spread of the disease, which typically includes culling the deer population in the area where a case is found and testing those deer that are killed. The landowner would then have first dibs on whatever healthy venison is produced from the culling and the rest goes to MDC's Share the Harvest program.

MDC killed 3,070 deer through its targeted culling operations from mid-January to mid-March this year.

"It's a pretty extensive and ongoing effort," Jerek said of MDC's CWD mitigation work. "But the alternative is if we didn't do all of this then the disease can really get out of hand. And once that Pandora's Box is open, it's really impossible to close it again."

Print Headline: State removes CWD testing in some management zone counties


Sponsor Content