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Voluntary CWD testing garners local support

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

A proposed plan that would allow hunters in portions of Medina, Bandera and Uvalde counties, encompassing about 250,000 acres, to voluntarily submit harvested deer for chronic wasting disease (CWD) monitoring is garnering support from area landowners.
If authorized by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the proposal would exempt area hunters from
mandatory sampling, carcass movement restrictions and relieve landowner concerns about negative impacts associated with the establishment of a CWD-monitoring zone. The proposed zone would include an area from Hondo to Sabinal bounded on the south by United States Highway 90 and FM 470 on the north, and FM 462 on the east and FM 187 on the west.
Bandera County Judge Richard Evans, Ulvade County Judge William Mitchell and Medina County Judge Chris Schuchart will coordinate efforts to increase the number of voluntary samples received from the proposed zone.
“I feel like the officials with Texas Parks and Wildlife had been responsive to the landowners in the containment zone,” Evans said in an interview. “Voluntary reporting is certainly more palatable to both hunters and landowners.”
He also noted that voluntary testing harvested deer would lift restrictions. “You aren’t allowed to take anything out of restricted areas,” he said, “and that included antlers, meat, head mounts and carcasses. Hunting is important to the State of Texas.”
CWD has been found in three captive deer breeding facilities in Medina and Uvalde counties and in one
hunter-harvested deer released from captivity.
In other parts of the state where CWD has been discovered in free-ranging animals, designated containment zones and mandatory hunter harvest check stations became a part of the state’s disease management plan.
“We’re working with TPWD to avoid the negative aspects associated with those kinds of restrictive measures and still provide the disease tracking needed to ensure our deer are healthy,” said Mark Matthews, a Medina County landowner who is helping to spearhead this effort. “Everyone involved has been very receptive to this common sense approach and now we just need buy-in and cooperation from our communities.”
“We understand that hunting is an essential and longstanding contributor to the area’s culture, economy and land values. Ensuring that heritage continues on private lands is very important to Texas Parks and Wildlife. We are committed to exploring the possibility of a voluntary sampling effort and working in partnership with the landowners and hunters to meet our CWD sampling goals,” explained TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith.
During a recent town hall meeting in Hondo, county officials outlined a plan to generate sufficient numbers of CWD samples from harvested deer voluntarily submitted by hunters to satisfy the state’s disease surveillance needs, starting with the 2016-17 hunting season.
A progressive, fatal disease, CWD affects cervids – deer, elk and moose – and there is no vaccine or cure. Unlike many other diseases, however, CWD can remain in the environment for years and animals coming in contact with infectious material could contract the disease. An animal may carry the disease for years without showing symptoms, but, in the latter stages, signs may include listlessness, lowering of the head, weight loss, repetitive walking in set patterns and a lack of responsiveness.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, elimination of CWD from a free-ranging deer population would be exceedingly difficult and likely impractical, except in the most extraordinary circumstances. A more likely approach would be to implement management strategies to contain the spread of CWD and lower infection rates if it were found in a free-ranging deer population.
However, they indicated that hunters would play a significant role in helping TPWD determine where the disease is to allow the implementation of management actions and help contain the spread of CWD.
Last year, Texas hunters provided more than 8,000 samples statewide for CWD testing of harvested deer. “We have a strong deer hunting heritage and by taking a proactive approach to monitoring for this disease we can help ensure the long-term viability of this important resource and tradition,” said Schuchart. “We encourage all hunters and landowners to step up in this effort.”
Evans praised his colleague for taking the initiative on this. “Judge Schuchart’s area was the most affected and he has worked hard on this. I give him full credit.”
Local officials and private biologists, in concert with TPWD, would conduct the proposed voluntary sampling effort. If successful, the sampling will provide confidence that CWD is not likely to be found in the areas’ free-ranging deer populations. The department would pay for the cost of the testing.
Evans indicated that he felt the voluntary samples would show that CWD would prove to be not a big issue in the free-ranging deer population. “However, that might not be the case in the large deer population in breeding operations,” he cautioned. Information about CWD and voluntary sample collection last season is available online at www.tpwd.texas.gov/cwd. Any landowner in or near the proposed zone who would like to volunteer samples should call 830-741-6020 to find out how they can help to resolve this issue.