Disease on its way?

Indiana has yet to discover chronic wasting disease (CWD) in wild or captive deer; but considering the disease has been found in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri, we know it’s only a matter of time.

Hoosiers must be prepared for what happens once the disease is here.

Since first detecting CWD in a captive deer facility near Macon, Missouri, in 2010, 35 cases have been confirmed in that state. Of those, 11 have been captive and 24 have been wild. Of the wild, 23 were found in a six-county CWD zone surrounding the captive facility where the always-fatal disease was first detected. CWD has now spread into a new area of the state, about 40 miles south of the containment zone.

After finding no new cases of CWD last year, the Missouri Department of Conservation recently issued a news release announcing 14 new cases of CWD discovered this year. This news is discouraging, because the department was cautiously optimistic that the disease could possibly have been eradicated through intense population reduction measures. Now those hopes are gone.

Missouri took an aggressive approach to reducing the number of wild deer in the CWD zone. This has led to a slowed spread of the disease but has come at the expense of depressed land values, declined hunting experiences and negative economic impacts to rural communities.

Wisconsin took another approach to handling CWD and did not aggressively reduce the population of deer in and around the impact zones. Now it is estimated that two out of five bucks in Wisconsin are infected with CWD.

Although the disease is spreading in Missouri, it is at a much slower rate than in Wisconsin.

So we don’t know what the Indiana DNR will do once CWD reaches the state, but I know what I think it should do, and that is to take Missouri’s approach to population reductions in efforts to slow the spread.

If this is what happens, then deer hunters must be prepared for a future with few deer. Landowners must be prepared for their investments to lose significant value. And small towns that see an influx of traffic during deer season must be prepared for times when hunters don’t want to come there anymore to hunt potentially diseased deer.

According to the Missouri department, it collected more than 3,400 tissue samples for CWD testing from harvested and other free-ranging deer this season. Results for about 330 tissue samples are in the process of being tested by an independent, outside laboratory.

The debate on how CWD first arrived in Missouri has been and continues to be a hot topic of discussion. Many believe, myself included, that the transportation of captive deer around the country has led to the rapid spread of the disease into new areas. Missouri has now closed its borders to any further importation of captive deer, which could be carrying the disease.

Indiana has moved in the opposite direction, with recent legislation allowing an increase in captive deer activity. Those associated with the captive industry argue transporting deer is not an issue.

In states like Colorado, Wyoming and Wisconsin, CWD has swept the landscape, and other states are seeing expansions of the disease. Indiana’s days are numbered, and when CWD arrives, it won’t be pretty. Enjoy the near future because right now may be the end of the good old days.

See you down the trail.