Headline News
Go Back

Voluntary CWD testing on whitetails

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photo courtesy Photos by Post

Alan Cain, whitetail deer program leader with Texas Parks & Wildlife, asked permission from Bandera County Commissioners to establish a deer check station on county property during the 2015-2016 hunting season.
During the Thursday, Oct. 8, meeting, Cain explained that samples taken from harvested deer at the check station would be tested to determine if any had been infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD).
Among cervids, CWD is a progressive and fatal disease that commonly results in altered behavior due to microscopic changes occurring in the brains of affected animals. An animal may carry the disease for years without outward signs. Later stages of the disease may include listlessness, lowering of the head, weight loss, repetitive walking in set patterns and a lack of responsiveness.
Cain explained that four deer in a captive breeding facility in Medina County, located south of Tarpley, had been infected with CWD.
Additionally, administrators with the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) and TPW recently announced that a whitetail deer in a Lavaca County breeding facility had also tested positive for CWD. The newly quarantined Lavaca County facility contained whitetail deer obtained from Texas Mountain Ranch, the Medina County breeding facility in which CWD was first detected.
"We're afraid that CWD has been transmitted to the free-ranging deer population," Cain said. Testing deer harvested during hunting season could be used to determine cross-infections.
Cain requested to use county property at Mansfield Park or at the old animal control facility, both located on Highway 16 North. TPW staff would operate the deer check station primarily on weekends - Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning - from Oct. 31 through Jan. 31.
The testing would be strictly voluntary, Cain said. "We'll pull tissue samples from harvested whitetails at no cost to the hunters," he explained. Tissue from deer brain stems and lymph nodes would be preserved in formalin and sent to the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (TVMDL) in College Station for testing. Tests take three to four weeks to complete, Cain told the court.
He continued, "Each hunter will be given a receipt that includes a number. Hunters can go online and check the results of the tissue samples. No names are involved."
"If it takes three to four weeks for results to come back, that deer will have already been made into sausage," Judge Richard Evans commented.
Cain emphasized that there is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans or non­cervids. However, as a precaution, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommends not consuming meat from infected animals.
According to Cain, CWD is a reportable disease and in the event of positive results, the TAHC herd plan will go into effect. "TAHC staff will work with landowners and treat positive results as an outbreak similar to TB or brucellosis," Cain said.
The TAHC mandatory herd plan includes:
• Limiting involvement with carcasses, which typically involves removing large muscles, but leaving deer backbone intact
• Halting the movement of deer off any ranches in question
• Doing additional sampling
Former Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese asked if sampling could be accomplished without killing the deer. "Rectal biopsies are not reliable," Cain said. "Although tonsil biopsies have a high success rate, the test is expensive and takes a skilled vet and anesthesia to do the procedure. At this time, there is no live test option."
At the Medina County breeding facility, of the 35 additional deer euthanized this summer, four tested positive. The remainder of the herd was killed in September, but test results are not back yet. CWD spreads more rapidly when high numbers of deer are confined behind wildlife fencing.
"There is no way we can eradicate this disease from a free-ranging deer population completely," Cain said. "We'll have to live with it and learn to manage around it." For eradication to be a viable option, early detection of CWD is critical and the geographic extent of the disease must be limited. Under those conditions it may be possible to eradicate CWD by significantly reducing the deer population.
Cain noted that some states such as New York and Minnesota have been successful in keeping CWD from getting established through eradication efforts because the cervid disease was discovered early and deer populations were dramatically reduced in localized areas to eliminate potential spread. Those areas have been CWD free for a number of years and deer populations are returning to pre-treatment densities.
According to Cain, currently, TPWD officials manage CWD by regulations and education, which include governing the movement of deer in and out or within an area where CWD is established, and helping educate landowners, hunters and the general public on how to reduce CWD risks.
Whether TPWD would consider options to try to eliminate all deer on a ranch or within a relatively small, localized area will be handled case-by-case. He noted this would depend on many factors, but trying to eliminate a deer population to control or eradicate CWD is not practical in most situations.
Commissioners unanimously approved allowing Cain and TPW personnel to operate a deer check station at the old animal control shelter on Highway 16 North during hunting season. However, few expressed optimism that hunters would voluntarily submit to testing of their harvested deer for CWD.