Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Plans for Firearm Deer Season

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The Illinois Department of Natural Resources, in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, will collect tissue samples from approximately 4,000 hunter-harvested deer to test for the presence of chronic wasting disease in the Illinois deer herd. The sampling will occur at firearm deer hunting check stations in 36 counties throughout the state beginning with the start of the firearm deer season Nov. 22-24.

"This stepped-up testing during our firearm deer hunting season will provide us with important information as we work to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease in the Illinois deer herd," said IDNR Director Brent Manning. "Hunters who voluntarily allow us to take samples from the deer they bring to check stations in 36 counties will help guide us in selecting the best strategy for dealing with CWD."

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease found in cervids (deer and elk) and is not known to be contagious to people or livestock.

CWD has been diagnosed in both wild and captive deer and elk in the western United States for many years. Earlier this year, tests confirmed the presence of CWD in free ranging deer in Wisconsin and in farmed or captive animals in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The first positive test for CWD in Illinois was confirmed November 1 in a sample taken from an adult female deer discovered east of Roscoe near the Winnebago-Boone county line in northern Illinois.

"While we had already planned this fall to increase significantly the number of animals tested in our ongoing CWD surveillance program, we will test even more hunter-harvested deer now that the disease has been detected in Illinois," Manning said. "Sampling will occur at select check stations in all parts of the state, with the greatest number of samples being taken from the state's northernmost counties."

The 36 counties in which hunters may be asked to provide samples at check stations are Adams, Boone, Bureau, Carroll, Clark, Clinton, DeKalb, Effingham, Fayette, Fulton, Hancock, Jefferson, Jo Daviess, Johnson, LaSalle, Lawrence, Macoupin, Madison, Marion, McHenry, McLean, Ogle, Pike, Pope, Randolph, Rock Island, Sangamon, Shelby, St. Clair, Stephenson, Union, Vermilion, Washington, Whiteside, Williamson, and Winnebago. (See list of county check station locations below). The counties were selected based on their location, deer herd size and the number of facilities raising deer or elk in those areas.

Chronic wasting disease attacks the brain of infected animals, causing them to become emaciated, lose coordination, behave abnormally and eventually die. Brain samples from selected hunter-harvested deer will be taken to the Illinois Department of Agriculture laboratories in Galesburg and Centralia for testing and, in some cases, to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa for follow-up testing.

"In addition to the normal check station routine during the firearm deer season, some hunters will be asked in those 36 counties where sampling will occur whether we can remove the deer head so that it can be tested for chronic wasting disease," said IDNR Forest Wildlife Program Manager Paul Shelton. "This is a purely voluntary effort, but hunters can assist us immensely by allowing us to take the sample."

"I hope that hunters will view this as an opportunity to participate directly in a very important management program. It should only take a few extra minutes to remove the head and collect some additional information from the hunter for reporting purposes. Participating hunters will be able to check test results on IDNR's web page, but we will contact any hunter directly in the event that their animal is found to have CWD."

It is expected that much of the sampling in downstate counties will occur during the first portion of the firearm deer hunting season, Nov. 22-24. In the counties where larger numbers of samples will be collected, it is expected to continue during the second portion of the firearm deer season, Dec. 5-8. Hunters are asked to bring their animals to the check stations as early as possible in order to avoid the long lines that frequently occur during evenings and to ensure that the freshest-possible samples can be collected. Samples will only be collected from adult deer. It is likely that testing of all samples will take several weeks to several months. There is no fee for this testing to the participants in this voluntary surveillance program.

A joint task force involving personnel from the Illinois Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture was created earlier this year after the discovery of CWD in neighboring Wisconsin. The task force developed the enhanced CWD surveillance plan and regulations restricting the importation of farmed deer and elk as well as hunter-harvested deer and elk from out of state.

IDNR regulations ban the import of hunter-harvested deer and elk, except for deboned meat, antlers and antlers attached to skull caps, hides, upper canine teeth and taxidermist mounts. Skull caps must be cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue.

The state regulations also ban the feeding of wild deer and other wildlife in areas where deer are present. The ban includes salt, mineral blocks, food and other food products, with some exceptions. For example, the incidental feeding of wildlife within active agricultural operations is exempt from the ban, as are bird and squirrel feeders close to homes.

The IDNR also implemented regulations earlier this year regarding interstate transportation of captive deer and elk and the monitoring of deer and elk in captive herds already in Illinois. The regulations complement new rules being adopted by the IDOA for diseased animals.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture plans to provide a chronic wasting disease testing service to hunters who would like to have their deer tested. More information on the testing submission protocol and fees for the service is available on the IDOA web site at the following web address: http://agr.state.il.us/AnimalHW/cwd/submit.html.

Hunters and others who see deer that they suspect might be sick should contact their local IDNR office or the Springfield IDNR wildlife office at 217/782-6384. The Department will make every effort to collect samples from possibly diseased deer for CWD testing.

For additional information on chronic wasting disease, answers to frequently asked questions, IDNR contact phone numbers and Illinois regulations regarding CWD, see the IDNR web site at http://dnr.state.il.us/pubaffairs/2002/CWD.htm.