Dusty McGehee: Chronic Wasting Disease

As some of you may know, the hot topic in our area right now is chronic wasting disease (CWD).  This is a disease I’ve been closely following for years and feel like I’m knowledgeable about, but I’m no expert.  Therefore, I decided to call in the big guns for this one, Johnathon Bordelon (Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Deer Program Manager) to help myself and the public better understand what we are currently dealing with.

CWD is a 100 percent fatal neurological disease which separates itself from other diseases common to deer in our area.  As of this time over 12,000 deer have been tested in our state since 2002 and CWD has not been detected in Louisiana.  Unfortunately, all of our neighboring states have detected it.

Last week, a 2.5-year-old doe harvested in Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge tested positive for CWD.  The deer was taken just seven miles north of the Louisiana state line.  Due to the close proximity LDWF was proactive and implemented their CWD Response Plan. 

The areas included in this plan are Union and Morehouse Parish.  Two important parts of this plan are an increase in sampling of deer and a baiting ban for both parishes.

As far as sampling goes, Bordelon said they need 300 total samples from both parishes.  When the news broke, they already had 50-60 samples from normal surveillance, but they want even greater confidence that the disease is not detectable in our area.  Why 300?  The USDA has a formula where 300 samples will give them 95 percent confidence that if the disease is there in 1 percent prevalence that they will detect it.

Where are they sampling? 

They will be heavily testing on DMAP participating hunting clubs within 25 miles of the positive but will not limit their focus to that area and will test throughout both parishes.  The bulk of the samples will come from deer processors, which will give them a random distribution of samples in these areas.  A small portion will be taken from road kills and taxidermists, as well.  Bordelon encourages hunters from all over the parishes to submit as many deer as possible so they can get their desired number as quickly as they can.   

Why did they implement a deer baiting ban? 

From LDWF’s website: CWD is spread through direct deer-to-deer contact or through contact with urine, feces, saliva, and body parts of infected deer or infectious materials in the soil. Prions will bind to soil particles once an infected deer carcass has decomposed. Once in a location, the disease is present indefinitely.  

The main concern is the congregation of deer in a small area.  Simply put, that many mouths coming into contact at a feeder or bait pile, greatly increases the risk of transmission.  The last sentence in LDWF’s statement above, should be alarming to all of us and I do not believe any hunter wants CWD to be present INDEFINITELY at their favorite shooting lane bait/feeder site.  Baiting is still allowed in feral pig traps and in backyard bird/squirrel feeders.

How can we hunters help? 

First and foremost, we need hunter participation.  Hunters harvesting deer in Union or Morehouse Parishes are asked to either contact the LDWF Monroe Field Office at 318-343-4044 or nearest LDWF Field Office and take the heads of their harvested deer with six inches of neck still attached to allow LDWF biologists to pull tissue samples for CWD testing.

Secondly, know the signs and symptoms of CWD.  Common signs would include a deer that is emaciated and acting abnormally.  A deer that has its head down and easily approachable is also another sign.  If you see a deer with any of these symptoms, contact your local LDWF office and they will respond.  

Some of the symptoms resemble other diseases such as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD) and blue tongue.  These diseases are common in our area but are not 100% fatal.  If you have a deer on trail camera that appears emaciated but is on your bait site, day after day, this deer probably does not have CWD and is recovering from something else.  When a deer with CWD gets to that state, it has trouble swallowing and will not be feeding.

Bordelon and his staff are working as hard as they can to get us back to normal.  While this issue has given many people heartburn, I appreciate the efforts they are putting forward.  These people have dedicated their lives to preserving our resources.  I urge all hunters to trust they are doing the right thing for our deer herd.  We all hope and pray that no positive cases of CWD are detected in Louisiana, and nobody wants that more than Bordelon and the rest of his team.

Thank you, Mr. Bordelon, for taking time to talk with me and for your team’s hard work in this challenging time.  For more information on CWD and LDWF’s response plan, check out https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/cwd.

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Dusty McGehee is a native of Downsville and a 2006 graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a bachelors in wildlife conservation. He is currently employed by WestRock and serves as an environmental engineer at the Hodge Mill. Dusty is an avid hunter and crappie fisherman, fishing crappie tournaments with his son when he is not in the woods. He and his wife Rachel have three young outdoorsmen/women: Anders (9), Ridge (7) and Mae (5).


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