Don't bring chronic wasting disease to S.C.

Posted

Chronic wasting disease is NOT in South Carolina, and we want to keep it that way. Hunters play a key role in ensuring CWD doesn't come to the state.

With big game seasons opening in many parts of the country, hunters should remember not to import into South Carolina certain carcass parts from white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose and elk harvested in areas where confirmed cases of CWD have occurred.

States where CWD has been diagnosed include: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

CWD has also been found in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec.

To ensure that S.C.'s extremely valuable white-tailed deer resource remains protected, SCDNR continues to maintain regulations restricting the importation of certain carcass parts from deer and elk harvested in the U.S. states and Canadian provinces where CWD has been documented. Deer hunting generates more than $200 million annually for S.C.'s economy, and white-tailed deer are the most-sought game species in the state, in addition to being the official state game animal. It is critical that sportsmen and women who pursue big game in other parts of the country understand and comply with these restrictions to protect the state's deer population and not bring infected materials back home from a successful hunting trip.

However, it is also important to note that these regulations do not prevent hunters from bringing home harvested game meat, since most game taken outside of S.C. is processed in the state where it was harvested. To comply with state regulations, hunters traveling to states with confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease may only bring the following carcass parts into S.C.:

- Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached;

- Meat that has been boned out;

- Hides with no heads attached;

- Clean skulls (no meat or tissue attached) or clean skull plates with antlers attached;

- Antlers (detached from the skull plate);

- Clean upper canine teeth of elk, also called "buglers," "whistlers" or "ivories"; and

- Finished taxidermy heads.

Hunters may NOT import whole carcasses or parts of deer or elk that contain nervous system tissue such as the brain or spinal column. Hunters traveling out of state should also check with the wildlife agency in their destination state, as well as states they may travel through to determine their CWD status and follow any restrictions states may have on the movement of carcasses.

About the Disease

CWD belongs to the family of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease. It is a contagious, always fatal, neurological disease that affects members of the deer family. Common members of this family include white-tailed deer, elk, mule deer, moose, caribou, red deer and fallow deer. The disease is not caused by a virus or bacteria but is rather the result of a naturally occurring protein, called a prion, which becomes misfolded and thus resists being broken down by the body the way normal proteins are. When these misfolded proteins are introduced into a healthy deer, they multiply by causing the animal's normal and healthy prion proteins to misfold and begin damaging the animal's nervous system. Prions associated with the disease are found primarily in nervous tissues like the brain and spinal cord but are also found in other body parts and in the urine, feces and saliva of infected individuals. Clinical signs appear 1.5 to 3 years after exposure with symptoms that include extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, odd behavior and poor coordination. Prior to the onset of clinical signs, deer infected with CWD can appear healthy. However, infected animals are shedding infectious prions during this period before being symptomatic.

Good evidence exists that the CWD agent can remain viable in the environment, in the soil for example, for long periods of time. This has been demonstrated at research facilities where the disease was present in deer or elk. The diseased animals were removed, the facilities underwent complete disinfecting, and no animals were present for an extended period of time. Once animals were returned to the facility, they became infected with CWD. This is precisely the reason that the SCDNR is asking hunters not to bring certain parts of carcasses to South Carolina when they hunt in states where CWD has been diagnosed. If hunters dispose of these carcass parts in South Carolina, the disease agent could potentially infect deer in that local area.

The SCDNR is joining many other states in letting hunters know how they can help fight the spread of CWD. The disease represents a very significant threat to North America's deer and elk populations, and it may be the most notable wildlife disease situation the country has ever faced. The SCDNR has conducted surveillance for CWD in South Carolina since 1998. To date, the disease has not been documented in South Carolina or any Southeastern state in the vicinity of South Carolina. Surveillance since 2002 has included samples from all 46 South Carolina counties, and over 6,000 total deer have been tested.

Fortunately, South Carolina's white-tailed deer population currently has limited risk from CWD, due in part to the aggressive steps that the SCDNR and the S.C. General Assembly took years ago to limit and strictly regulate the importation of live deer, elk and other cervids. There is evidence that movements of live cervids for commercial purposes may have impacted the current CWD situation in other states, as many cases have been linked to captive animals. This is an important point, because states vary with respect to allowing cervids to be transported for commercial purposes. The SCDNR has been criticized in the past for not being more liberal in supporting or allowing deer farming or high fenced "shooter buck" operations that depend on moving animals into the state. However, since CWD has become a concern, a growing list of states have discontinued allowing deer to be imported for any purpose.

For more information on CWD visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/deer/chronicwasting.html

To report violations related to illegal importation of carcasses or live deer or any other natural resource criminal activity, please call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-922-5431 or visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/law/OGT.html.