AMES, Iowa — Thousands of Iowans will take part in the annual shotgun deer hunting season that begins this weekend across the state. As the season begins, staying informed and taking best-management practices regarding Chronic Wasting Disease is of the upmost importance for all hunters, landowners and deer-consumers.
Chronic Wasting Disease or CWD is a neurological disease that affects white-tailed deer and other members of the deer family. The disease is a Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy that infects animals with a misfolded protein or prion that, when not misfolded, is benign. Misfolded prions accumulate in an individual animal and erode the function of the central nervous system, eventually leading to holes in the animal’s brain. In the case of CWD, these holes eventually lead to a literal wasting away of the animal’s function until death. CWD is 100 percent fatal among deer and has been increasing in prevalence and distribution across the Midwest since the early 2000s.
In Iowa, CWD is currently known to occur in wild deer in three counties – Wayne, Allamakee and Clayton.
“Everyone, from landowners to hunters to wildlife rehabilitators, has a role to play in addressing the challenge of Chronic Wasting Disease in Iowa,” said Adam Janke, assistant professor and extension wildlife specialist at Iowa State. “CWD can be spread directly between an infected and healthy deer and indirectly by contaminating soil where an infected deer once was.”
Therefore, controlling movements of deer and deer carcasses across Iowa is essential, especially near areas where the disease is known to occur.
It is also important to minimize artificial concentrations of deer, including stopping all feeding and mineral supplementation targeting deer.
Hunters play a critical role in monitoring the distribution of the disease in the state and also in helping reduce its spread. In addition to safely disposing of carcasses in landfills, hunters can help by working with Iowa Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists to submit samples for CWD surveillance and work with landowners to manage deer densities on their land, especially around areas known to have the disease.
“Every landowner has a responsibility to manage the density of deer on their property, and hunters can work with landowners and the DNR to ensure proper densities are achieved through the harvest of does in areas where deer are especially abundant and where CWD is known to occur,” said Janke.
Hunters are encouraged to have all deer harvested near areas known to have the disease tested to inform consumption decisions, as suggested by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Specific phone numbers to submit a sample in each of the three known areas with the disease in Iowa are provided on the Iowa DNR CWD website. Hunters can also use that website to check the results of any CWD tests they submit.
Finally, vigilance among all citizens can help document and fight the spread of the disease.
“Many diseases can kill deer, and in most cases these disease don’t pose any real threat to populations or people,” Janke said. “However, because of the complexity of TSEs, CWD is cause for extra caution.”
Sightings of sick deer can be reported to local Iowa DNR law enforcement officers.
Additional information about CWD can be found in Iowa State University Extension and Outreach publication “Chronic Wasting Disease in Deer” (WL 0001).
— Adam Janke, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
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