Well it finally happened, the inevitable appearance of CWD, chronic wasting disease, in Arkansas. Since most all Arkansas’s neighboring states have cases of the disease it was almost a certainty that it would make its way to the Natural State. Deer and Elk don’t quite understand state boarders. The disease was first discovered in Arkansas in an elk harvested in the Boxley Valley in October. Since this discovery many animals, deer and elk, in and around the area have tested positive for the disease. The last I checked there was a 23% prevalence rate, and the AGFC has moved to testing roadkill and not culling anymore animals. The question we as hunters, conservationist, and stewards of the wildlife have is how do we deal with it now that it is here. Before we dive into that, lets get a brief background on the disease.
A scientist studying captive mule deer first discovered CWD in Colorado in 1967. The mule deer was captured from the wild but had shared space with captive elk and sheep. This is why the high fence outfits usually get the blame for the spread of CWD. I am no scientist but I will do my best to describe the disease to you. CWD, chronic wasting disease, affects deer and elk by slowly boring holes in their brains. The animal goes “mad” so to speak and is unable to eat, drink, or function. Eventually, and I mean after the course of about 2 years, the animal dies. If CWD sounds eerily similar to MAD COW disease then you are on to something. Many species have some form of CWD. In cows it’s the called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or Mad Cow disease. In sheep and goats the disease is called Scrapie. In human beings it is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. In all cases the disease is caused by a protein based infectious agent, called prions. Prions are smaller than bacteria and harder to kill than a cockroach. Unlike EHD and Blue Tongue, which need a live host, CWD is transferred to the environment where it can be transferred to other hosts. It is now found in many states across the U.S., as well as parts of Canada. Despite the millions of dollars spent on CWD research there is still little known about the disease. However, that does not ever stop some from muddying the waters and creating mass hysteria in their wake. So has CWD always been there? Is it that we just found it because we were looking? In most states deer, elk, and mule deer herds continue to thrive despite the disease. Shortly after the disease was found in Arkansas it was also found in Europe in a wild free ranging Reindeer.
The question now is simple. How do we deal with CWD? The good thing is we have seen what others states have done right and what some have done wrong. The true worry of most of us is that scorched earth will be used to deal with the matter. Mass killing of animals just to know what we already know, CWD is here. The prion that causes the disease can be spread through the animals urine, feces, and decomposing bodies. Once it is in the grass, soil, and water there truly is no way of getting rid of it.
What we as hunters need to know is that the disease is a threat to hunting. Deer dying off and being killed by the masses is bad but losing hunters to fear of eating deer meat and dwindling deer numbers is worse. Hunters support the conservation efforts. They vote for politicians who support hunting rights. If the disease thins the already shallow hunter herd, this could be much worse for the deer. Less hunting licenses sales means fewer dollars spent on conservation and research. Now that CWD is here we may not be able to do much with the disease but we can keep hunting. We can keep contributing to the cause; we can take our children hunting and teach them conservation. This is what we as hunters can do to fight CWD. We should also stay informed about what our state is doing to limit the diseases reach.
I have listed a few links below to information on CWD. The more facts we know the less susceptible you are to hysteria, and propaganda.If you notice a deer or elk is in poor condition and showing signs of abnormal behavior please report it at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1-800-482-9262. Thank you for reading; let’s keep hunting alive in the Natural State for generations to come.