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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

By Colonel Mike Abell


Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is an always-fatal disease

found in a familiar family of animals called cervids. Cervids are

very simply – mammals of the deer family or scientifically classified

into the family Cervidae. To date, it has been found in wild

or captive cervids in 25 states and 3 Canadian provinces but not

yet in Kentucky. It can be transmitted through animal to animal

contact, contact with body fluids or feces left on the landscape,

contact with an animal carcass left on the landscape, and indirectly

through soil contaminated by any of the above.

It is not caused by a virus or bacteria, but by an irregularly

formed protein prion. The prions are very hard to destroy and

can survive on the landscape for years. The prion infection also

takes years to kill the animal by causing healthy protein prions

already in the animal to become irregularly formed. The irregularly

formed prions attack the nervous system of an infected animal,

which animal then becomes a vector of the disease for a

number of years before it succumbs to CWD. The infected deer

or elk do not become visually symptomatic for at least two

years, which is why this disease is problematic to hunters. It

would be very easy for one to kill an infected deer or elk and

have no idea it is infected because they show no outward signs

of the disease.

CWD has not been shown to infect humans. There have

been national cases where large groups of people have eaten

CWD infected deer. They are being monitored for the disease

and so far they are not infected. Notwithstanding those results,

if you are hunting in a CWD infected area, experts advise you to

have the deer or elk tested prior to eating it. The disease was

first discovered in a captive mule deer facility run by the Colorado

Division of Wildlife Research in Fort Collins in 1967. Researchers

have been working on a cure ever since and they are making

progress. There have been many false claims and internet

hoaxes about a cure, but to date there is not one. Currently the

best defense is prevention.

Position paper published on the Legislation Action website:

Before we discuss deer hunting, we must discuss the overall

importance of hunting in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Hunting

is a significant portion of our heritage and culture. President

Theodore Roosevelt spoke of the “democracy of hunting,” which

meant that any American, regardless of race, creed, ethnicity,

economic class or profession can hunt and hunt successfully. We

believe hunting is one of the last cords that bind our urban and

rural populations to the natural world around us. Hunting is also

a major economic driver for the Commonwealth, with an overall

annual economic impact of approximately $1.5 billion-dollars.

Deer hunting in particular has a $770 million dollar annual economic

impact on the Commonwealth.

These facts cannot be understated and must be always preeminent

in our minds as we discuss the future of hunting in the


Our natural environment now includes the reality of Chronic

Wasting Disease (CWD). This position statement is not meant to

educate the reader on what CWD is but to publicly state the position

of the Kentuckiana

Chapter of Safari Club International

(KYSCI) on

hunting in a CWD environment.

Anyone who

wishes to become more

educated on exactly what

CWD is can do so at KYSCI

believes that all future

decisions about our deer

and elk herds must be

made in the context of

our hunting heritage, the

hunting economy and CWD. All three should carry equal weight

during the decision-making process, but they must each be underpinned

by scientific evidence and robust public comment. The

science must be both ecological and economical. The robust public

comment must generate a proactive long-term dialogue that

establishes lines of communication with individual hunters, hunting

clubs, conservation organizations, wildlife societies and

species-specific foundations.

The Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan for the Kentucky

Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) is detailed,

deliberate, logical and executable. KYSCI finds the plan

to have only two major flaws.

The first flaw is that the plan is a RESPONSE plan. We recommend

the plan be revised to include prevention and be retitled

a “Prevention and Response Plan.” The KDFWR has yet to detect

a case of chronic wasting disease in the Commonwealth and we

believe that significant steps can be taken to delay or even prevent

the disease’s manifestation here. The tenents we recommend

be included in the prevention plan are as follows:

The KDFWR Law Enforcement Division should establish random

check stations along

major thoroughfares with

bordering CWD positive

states during their deer

seasons. People only

comply with laws and

regulations that are enforced.

The passage of

KAR 2:095 which banned

the importation of cervid

parts from CWD positive

states is one step, but it

is a passive step. Currently, a violation of KAR 2:095 is likely to

happen only after the illegal cervid parts are in the Commonwealth,

after a reporting from a taxidermist or cervid meat

processor. Random border checks would stop a few, but they

would become a serious deterrent to many others. Increased requirements

for the monitoring and reporting of captive cervid

herds and breeding operations in the Commonwealth, not just

to the Department of Agriculture but also to the KDFWR, should

be considered.

Captive Cervid Operators should be required to purchase insurance

against the contamination of our wild cervids. The policy

should list the KDFWR as the “loss payee” should a captive cervid

escape and become a disease vector with which the KDFWR

must contend.

Captive Cervid Operations should be required to have even

more robust physical barriers on the perimeter of their facilities

and during transportation, to prevent the escape of any captive


The KDFWR should begin year round sampling of road-kill

deer for CWD. The testing should be focused on the same thoroughfares

that would be points of ingress for deer hunters returning

from CWD positive states, mentioned in item (1) above.

The second flaw is that the plan fails to address the overall

nature of the CWD vector – the prion. The protein prion that

causes CWD is exceptionally hard to destroy and can remain viable

for decades in the natural environment.

So, while cervids are social creatures that may pass the

prion from one animal to another laterally (directly animal to animal)

or maternally (mother to offspring), it could also be passed

indirectly. That indirect transmission would occur by a cervid

urinating, defecating, vomiting, giving birth or leaving any other

body fluid containing prions on the landscape. While the fluid

would dry up, the prion would remain viable on the landscape

for years. It is then possible for another cervid to ingest those

prions and become infected. Thus, any human activity that congregates

deer is potentially a risk to also congregating infected

deer in a CWD environment.

We believe the plan very adequately addresses shutting

down of baiting in the

containment and/or

surveillance zones only

after the disease is discovered.

Thus, baiting

should continue in its

current form until the

disease is discovered

and then this plan

should be followed.

It is imperative to

improve the plan and

include food plots and other agricultural practices that congregate

deer in the response plan. Once CWD is discovered, the

plan appropriately curtails baiting in the containment and/or surveillance

zones. In the absence of bait stations and feeders, food

plots and livestock minerals will aggregate deer in even greater

numbers. Thus, the ground used for food plots and areas around

livestock minerals will become a reservoir of CWD vector prions;

therefore, food plots and agricultural practices in CWD positive

areas must be considered and actions to mitigate the risks associated

should be considered.

If the KDFWR updates the existing plan to incorporate the

above recommendations, then the Kentuckiana Chapter of Safari

Club International will be in total support.


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