Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods & Waters: Chronic Wasting Disease - A scary subject, Part II

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In last week's column, I paraphrased MA DFW Moose & Deer Project Leader David Stainbrook's presentation to the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). Scientists are stymied as to how to control the disease. Thankfully, so far, humans have not been affected and only cervids are.

In studying the disease, scientists injected the brain tissue of a CWD-infected deer into the brain of a mouse and it got infected. When they fed a mouse the infected meat, it didn't become infected. Monkeys that were injected with the infectious material directly into their brain all became infected. Interestingly, three out of four monkeys that were fed the infected meat did become infected.

So, can the prions mutate?

Maybe, eventually. Scientists are now becoming concerned about the safety of our livestock.

Can we derive any comfort from the fact that they haven't found many new cases of CWD in other states?

Not really, because of the reduced Federal funding, some states couldn't afford to do the tests and they had to drop down to a low level of testing. They simply can't test as many deer as they want to.

Stainbrook says that MA DFW wants to test any deer that is exhibiting disease-like symptoms, such as an emaciated deer that is circling or acting unusual.

We have a regulation in place. If you get a deer, moose, elk or caribou while deer hunting in a state that has CWD, you cannot bring that carcass back to MA without deboning the meat and cleaning the skull cap. That means you have to quarter it and take out the bones. If you get a nice buck, you have to think about that. You may have to drop it off at a taxidermist there to be caped and cleaned, go back home, and then pick it up in a few days later. When Stainbrook hunted in South Dakota, he had to drop off his deer head at a taxidermist, have them cape it out, and then ship the antlers and cape to him. He also had to debone the meat prior to bringing it back.

"In Massachusetts, we have a regulation that no live deer may come into the state," said Stainbrook. Every year he gets about 10 calls from people wanting to bring live Santa Clause reindeer from out-of-state. You can't bring them into Massachusetts. If you do, there is a risk of CWD, because reindeer are captive deer from other states.

In Massachusetts we have regulatory authority over captive deer facilities. In a lot of states, the state wildlife agencies do not have the authority but rather their Departments of Agriculture who tend to be very much against prohibitive regulation because they are all for helping the farmers thrive in business.

White-tailed deer are not on the list of allowable captive deer in MA. There is potentially an escaped red deer in the Williamstown area, possibly from VT or NY. If that deer is infected it is now out around infecting other deer. That's the kind of thing Stainbrook worries about. If you have regulatory authority over captive farms you could require really high fences, double fences and require tags on your deer.

A lot of deer can travel one or two miles and could cross state border lines; and you may be hunting them.

Deer disperse out, and in studies they have found 75 percent of yearling males will disperse from two miles on up from where they were born. Stainbrook cited that one yearling disperser in Pennsylvania, which had a GPS collar on it went over 90 miles. This could be a major contributor to how CWD can spread across the landscape. There are ongoing studies to try to determine the average distance that deer will disperse. If the average males travel four or five miles, one can estimate after 10 years how far CWD has been spread. It is a consideration that scientists have to make as to what to do to control the spread. CWD could be silently creeping throughout the state.

In states that have detected CWD, the action has been to reduce deer density in a designated area around the detection and test harvested deer for CWD to establish an understanding of prevalence. The lower the density, the less likely it will spread. Unfortunately, by the time it is detected, it has probably been in that state for 10 to 20 years and they didn't know it. The best thing that we can do is everything possible to prevent it from coming into our state. If it comes into our state, it is going to change everything.

To prevent risk, they could restrict the use of deer urine. A typical bottle could have a mixture of urine and feces from hundreds of deer from all over the country. They can't take a bottle of deer urine and stick it into a lab tube and if it turns red, it tested positive. There is no test to look for those prions in that urine. The way to do it is very expensive and time consuming and not feasible for them to scan all of those bottles. So, a lot of states have banned them.

There are other options, like synthetic urine lures. They tested pine tree air fresheners that you use in your car and they actually found that they are quite effective. Not sure why, some deer just come to investigate it and others "high tail" it when they get a whiff. But, it is something scientists are looking into.

"It depends on the state agencies and their ability to take action," Stainbrook said. "We can't ban the sale of it, but we could prohibit the use or possession of it while hunting."

Instead of only banning harvested deer from states with CWD, some states are considering not allowing a deer carcass from any state (like Maine). The reason for that is that many of the states that are reporting being CWD free don't have the resources to test enough deer to be confident that they don't have it. If a state is not testing its deer, how can we say it doesn't have CWD. Maybe there should be disposal regulations. If you bring a deer into the state you have to dispose of it a certain way. Some states are looking at carcass disposal regulations.

So, after hearing or reading Stainbrook's comments, do you think the state would/should relax the CWD regulations? I don't think so, do you?

Taconic Trout Unlimited presentation

On Oct. 25 at 7 p.m., the Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited will have as its guest speaker Steve Culton. He is a fly-fishing guide and instructor, fly-tyer, and freelance writer. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, American Angler, The Flyfish Journal, The Drake, Flyfishing & Tying Journal, Eastern Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel Online, and the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. His presentation is entitled "The Little Things" that you can do to catch and land more fish.

The presentation will take place at the Cork n' Hearth Restaurant on Laurel Street (Rte. 20) in Lee. There will be a social hour at 5 p.m., followed by a business meeting. There is also the opportunity to stay for dinner.

Questions/comments: Berkwoodsandwaters@roadrunner.com. Phone: (413) 637-1818


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