New hunting rules could stop spread of deadly deer disease
COLUMBIA - The Missouri Department of Conservation is asking deer hunters in 19 central and northeastern Missouri counties to help limit the spread of a deadly deer disease.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is an infectious disease that is spread from deer to deer.
Wildlife health specialist Jasmine Batten said the fatal disease is neurological and degenerative.
"It's a slow developing disease at first, but there is no cure, or vaccine or treatment for the disease. So although it spreads quite slowly at first, once the disease is introduced to an area, it's very difficult to get rid of it, if not impossible," Batten said.
The Department of Conservation started surveillance for CWD in 2001. Batten said the first detection of CWD in Missouri was in 2010 in captive deer. In 2012, the department found the disease in free ranging deer for the first time in Macon County.
Last year, MDC found the disease in two new counties, Adair and Cole. The 16 new CWD management counties are all within a 25-mile radius of the three original counties where infection was found. Batten said these findings are the reason for the department cutting back on deer hunting regulations.
MDC is offering hunters the opportunity to get two antlerless permits instead of one, per hunting season. This allows hunters to harvest two does.
David Hinkle is a Missouri hunter who shot his first deer when he was 11. He said having two antlerless tags would be a welcome opportunity.
"Don't shoot the small ones, that's for sure, the small bucks, we let them grow. But definitely, if I see a doe, and I have a tag, it's going down," he said.
But under the new regulations, hunters actually would be allowed to hunt younger bucks. The MDC is also removing the antler point restriction, which previously prohibited hunting male deer with fewer than four points on their antlers.
Batten said the reason the restriction is being removed is because CWD is more common in male deer, and that males play a big part in spreading the disease when they disperse from their original home range.
"So when we have a regulation in place that doesn't allow hunters to harvest those younger bucks, we actually are doing a disservice to disease management," Batten said.
Hinkle said he would help the Missouri Department of Conservation stop the spread of the disease.
"If they're strictly trying to kill deer to get rid of the disease, I guess I'll help them out and shoot more. More meat, that's fine," he said.
However, he did say there are limits. "If we're just killing everything, we're eventually going to run out of sport bucks. It's kind of up in the air I guess."
MDC is also encouraging against feeding deer and transporting full carcasses long distances. Batten said both of these activities could contribute to the spread of CWD.
She said the disease can take up to 18 months to kill deer.
"Very hard to get rid of it, maybe even impossible, since it moves very slowly, progresses in the deer slowly, and it progresses in the landscape slowly," Batten said. "Years down the road it definitely will have an impact on population levels."
She said MDC has found 26 deer with the disease to date.
"Although the disease is very serious and we're taking actions to prevent spread of it, it's still relatively rare in the state," Batten said.
She said the main goals behind the new regulations are to slow the spread of the disease and prevent the introduction of it into new areas in the state.
"Guess I have to make more room in my freezer," Hinkle said.