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2015-11-05

TPW traces CWD in index facility

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Photo by Judith Pannebaker
John Tomecek, PhD, Texas A&M assistant professor and wildlife specialist, and Wildlife Division Director Clayton Wolf of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department spoke at a recent RLAT meeting on Chronic Wasting Disease in cervids.


Prior to delivering a presentation on Chronic Wasting Disease, Wildlife Division Director Clayton Wolf of Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPW) noted, "This is all I've been working on since July."
At that time, the life-threatening - and incurable - disease that affects cervids, including Texas' cash crop of whitetail deer, was discovered in a breeding facility in Medina County, just miles from Tarpley in Bandera County. This was the first time the disease appeared in the Texas whitetail population. The discovery created significant concern among wildlife professionals, deer breeders and hunting industry professionals.
Although CWD affects the brains and nervous systems of animals, the disease isn't considered a threat to human health.
On Tuesday, Oct. 13, Wolf and his cohort, John Tomecek, PhD, Texas A&M assistant professor and wildlife specialist, spoke to the Ranchers & Landowners Association of Texas, and concerned members of the community about the problem.
"We all have to remember the value Texas places on deer and deer hunting," Wolf said. "Deer hunting adds $2.2 billion to the state's economy. It's truly the goose that laid the golden egg."
Despite being discovered in captive mule deer at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Foothills Wildlife Research Facility in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1967, CWD did not appear in Texas until 2012. At that time, it was diagnosed in mule deer in far West Texas. Both infected deer were taken from the Hueco Mountains of northern El Paso and Hudspeth counties.
"This is a remote area with a very low deer population," Wolf said. "Regulations now prohibit artificial movement of deer from that area and 100 percent of the hunter-harvested deer are examined at check stations."
When the CWD positive buck was discovered in Medina County, TPW officials began the arduous task of tracing the 126 deer provided to the ranch from 30 other breeding facilities in the last five years, Wolfe said. Additionally, within the last five years, 835 deer had been transferred from the Medina index facility - 706 to 147 other facilities with 132 being released on-site.
On Wolf's map used, it appeared that the index facility had provided deer to almost every other whitetail breeder facility in South and South Central Texas, plus two in Mexico.
On July 1, the Medina index facility contained 136 adult deer. After the CWD-positive buck was discovered, a partial depopulation of 43 deer occurred. Of that number, three additional positives were discovered.
According to Wolf, a final depopulation that occurred at the Medina breeding facility on Sept. 30 came up with no further positive results. "This was just one cohort of animals," Wolf said, adding, "It could have been worse." All deer testing positive for CWD were 2-year-old bucks that had been born on site.
Also, Wolf noted that more positives would have indicated that a higher number of CWD positives might have left the site. "The results are another piece to the puzzle."
The index facility cannot put CWD susceptible species on the land for five years. After that any herds will be closely monitored, Wolf said.
Additionally, the owner cannot remove any fencing from the property. The owner was given a partial reimbursement for the depopulation of the herd by an indemnity fund from the United States Department of Agriculture.
After the initial testing, TWPD officials issued a hold order, which prevented deer from being transported or released. When tests were completed on select deer in herds that included exposure to transported deer from the index herd, an additional CWD-buck was discovered in Lavaca County. This was confirmed on Sept. 15.
To date, 84 deer were traced out of the Lavaca facility to nine breeding facilities, three release sites and one fawn raiser in seven counties. Additionally, 17 deer had been released.
"This was much less complicated investigation than the Medina County facility because the Lavaca site had only been in business a year," Wolf said. "Also, we know how CWD arrived there."
He also noted that many of the 17 released deer were still in captivity because they were in soft-release pens, "We have authorized the landowners to keep them in there," Wolf added.
Breeder movement resumed on August 24 with Sept. 22 being the final day to liberate breeder bucks with antlers still attached.
During this hunting season, TPW officials are looking to sample 300 deer hunter-harvested within five miles of the index site in Bandera County, Wolf said. "We've hired six seasonal employees to work this season." The Courier published an article about TPWD sampling plans in the Oct. 15 edition, titled "Voluntary CWD testing on whitetails."
According to Wolf, hunters are one of the best ways to contain CWD in the free-roaming deer population. "Hunters aren't going to shoot sick deer," he said. "We're going to ask them to mark the location of any sickly deer with a GPS and report them to us." Cervids in the latter stages of CWD infection present with weight loss, stumbling, tremors, excessive salivation, behavioral changes, abnormal head posturing and drooping ears.
"For years, we've been doing a lot of sampling for CWD in Texas," Wolf said. "Odds are we're not going to find CWD on hunting properties." From 2003 through 2014, 5792 deer were sampled in the Edwards Aquifer region, which includes Bandera County.
"However," Wolf cautioned, "if we don't same and CWD is out there, it's going to spread and no management efforts will be successful."