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Chronic Wasting Disease
Ohio Division of Wildlife on full alert

NEWS ARTICLE from USA TODAY, 5-6-02, By Anita Manning

``Outbreak spurs a record deer kill in Wisconsin

Landowners and hunters in Wisconsin this week will begin the unprecedented killing of all the white-tailed deer - up to 15,000 - in a part of the state where the deer are affected by a disease similar to Britain's mad cow disease.

The state's Department of Natural Resources starts issuing special deer harvest permits to landowners on Monday for the hunt. It will be up to the landowners to decide who can hunt on their property. The DNR also is proposing to lengthen the regular hunting season to help stop the spread of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, a brain disease that infects and kills captive and wild deer and elk in western states and Canada.

Once found only in Colorado and Wyoming, the disease has spread east of the Mississippi River. Many fear that if it isn't stopped, it could spread through the plentiful white-tailed-deer population of the East Coast. Infected animals become emaciated and disoriented and eventually die ...

In Wisconsin, wildlife officials are urging hunters and sharpshooters to kill all the deer in a 287-square-mile hot zone where, at the core, an estimated 9% may be infected ...

The disease had not been seen in Wisconsin until brain tests on white-tailed deer killed during the 2001 hunting season turned up three cases in the Mount Horeb area of Dane County, southwest of Madison. The state moved quickly to kill 516 more deer from the same region, discovering 11 more positive cases.

CWD's impact on the state's farmed deer and elk industry and its $1 billion hunting economy is likely to be dramatic, officials say.

Eastern states with plentiful herds of white-tailed deer, including Maryland and Tennessee, are"very concerned," says Lynn Creekmore, a veterinarian with the U.S. Agriculture Department. "Until this time, a lot of eastern states viewed this as a western problem." ''

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NEWS ARTICLE from USA TODAY, 5-6-02, By Anita Manning

``Wildlife disease threatens Wisconsin's ways

Last week, Bill Vander Zouwen, a lifelong deer hunter and a state wildlife expert, stood before more than 1,500 people in the Mount Horeb High School in southwest Wisconsin and said that this year killing deer is going to be one of the hardest things he's had to do ...

Chronic Wasting Disease, a deadly neurologic illness similar to mad cow disease in British cattle, is spreading to parts of the American heartland. While it has affected only a tiny percentage of animals, it is threatening Wisconsin's economy and rocking the foundation of a region where deer hunting is part of the culture. Caution urged for hunters

The disease is in a family of fatal illnesses called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, or TSEs, which cause tiny, spongelike holes in the brain. Forms of the disease have been seen in sheep, mink, cats and even in humans, in a rare disease called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or CJD.

Since the mid-'90s, a variant of CJD that is believed to result from consumption of beef infected with mad cow disease has killed about 100 people in the United Kingdom and Europe. In deer and elk, symptoms include behavior changes, emaciation and death. It is not known how it passes from animal to animal, though scientists believe animals are somehow ingesting the infectious material, either in saliva or feces.

"It certainly is transmissible, but it takes more than nose-to-nose contact," says University of Wyoming researcher Elizabeth Williams, a professor of veterinary science ...

For years, CWD was confined to a small percentage of wild mule deer and elk in northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming and adjacent Nebraska, but it has crept outward and now covers about 16,000 square miles in the region. It has also turned up among farmed deer and elk in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Saskatchewan, Canada.

It had not been seen in Wisconsin's state animal, the white-tailed deer, until the end of February. "That's when our world got turned upside down," says Tom Hauge, director of the bureau of wildlife management. Three of the 82 samples of brain tissue examined at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's lab in Ames, Iowa, were positive for CWD. Since then, 11 more have been found positive, all within 13 miles of each other.

The news has galvanized the state, Hauge says. "White-tailed deer are integral to our lifestyle and culture. It's just part of who we are here in Wisconsin."

Each year, an estimated 700,000 hunters take to the woods, he says, contributing to a $1 billion hunting economy that supports conservation and local businesses.

In parts of Colorado where CWD is found, it affects 1% to 15% of deer, mainly mule deer, says the Colorado Division of Wildlife. It is much less common in elk, where fewer than 1% of wild and captive animals have been infected.

Still, the effect on the elk farming industry has been devastating, farmers say. In Colorado, some elk farmers are giving up and going out of business, receiving payment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to kill all their animals, even on farms where none has tested positive for the disease.

"It's a pretty sad day for the industry," says Wes Ramage, an elk farmer in Oakfield, Wis., and vice president of the Wisconsin Commercial Deer and Elk Farmer's Association. "Some people are saying that all this hoopla has had such a destructive effect on the industry."

Wisconsin requires testing of captive elk and none has tested positive, Ramage says. "We're not afraid for our own animals," he says. "It's just perception and reality. If you hear Wisconsin has CWD in its wild white-tail, you think there goes Wisconsin."

The USDA is looking toward creating a national surveillance program for CWD, says Ron DeHaven, deputy administrator of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, but there are a number of hurdles, including a shortage of testing laboratories and the lack of a test to detect the disease in live animals.

In Wisconsin, the massive depopulation effort will put pressure on state and federal veterinary labs, says Julie Langenberg, a veterinarian with the state Department of Natural Resources. "We estimate needing testing on the order of 14,000 to 15,000 deer," this year alone, she says. "We don't currently have that testing capacity, but that is our No. 1 priority." ...

No quick solution is expected. Wildlife officials say the depopulation of the hot zone may need to continue for as long as five years.

The hunt, unprecedented in its size, will be painful, but "there is, sadly, no choice," says Scott Craven of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "If we don't seize this chance and CWD spreads in Wisconsin, decimates the deer herd or spreads to adjoining states, I believe in five, 10 or 20 years, history will not judge us kindly." ''

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 5-17-02, By D'Arcy Egan, Plain Dealer Outdoors Writer

``Disease threatens deer, elk

A brain-eating disease in elk and deer has hop-scotched the Mississippi River, forcing Wisconsin officials to kill as many as 15,000 white-tailed deer over the next few weeks and putting the Ohio Division of Wildlife (ODOW) on full alert for chronic wasting disease (CWD) ...

The disease has festered for decades among elk and deer in northeastern Colorado. The disease is most prevalent in captive elk herds.

Colorado's CWD control program slaughtered 1,500 elk this winter after 32 elk in captive herds tested positive.

Now the disease has escaped, with dire consequences for the high-density white-tailed deer populations in Ohio and around the Midwest.

Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials will test 500 white-tailed deer killed by hunters this fall, said David Glouer, Ohio State veterinarian. Unlike Wisconsin and Texas, Ohio will not slam the door on the importation of deer and elk.

In fact, Ohio has no idea how many elk are living behind fences in the state. It is believed that diseased elk shipped from Colorado are responsible for the general spread of CWD.

"We don't have a listing of deer or elk ranches," Glouer said. "We do request a certificate that the animal has been inspected by a veterinarian before it can be brought into Ohio, but it is a voluntary program."

State wildlife officials require people raising white-tailed deer to have a special permit, but not for elk or mule deer. Those animals are considered exotic and are under the jurisdiction of the ODA and in the same classification as cattle or sheep ...

If wildlife officials, farmers, landowners and sharpshooters can kill every white-tailed deer in the target area, it still might not contain the disease. No state agency has been able to control a CWD outbreak in wild deer or elk yet.

"Wisconsin is not overreacting," said ODOW Deputy Chief Steve Gray. "We would do the same in Ohio. Our deer herd is so valuable to hunters and nonhunters alike. Deer hunting is a $500 million industry in Ohio, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

CWD attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, literally causing the brain to rot. Symptoms include excessive salivation, trouble swallowing, a difficulty judging distance, lack of coordination and drooping ears.

There is no way to test live animals for the disease. Elk and deer must be killed and the brain inspected to determine if the animal has CWD.

CWD belongs to a group of related diseases call Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE). Included on the TSE list is mad cow disease, which has resulted in about 100 human deaths in Europe ...

The infected area is in the southwestern corner of Wisconsin, a stone's throw from the Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota borders. The deer densities in the area are much higher than in western states, increasing the risk of CWD spreading through the free-ranging herd.

The white-tailed deer most at risk in Ohio would be those in the urban areas where hunting is not allowed and deer densities are highest. Urban counties in Ohio and around the Midwest can have as many as 80 to 100 deer per square mile.

"Disease is less likely to spread if deer densities are low," said Dave Swanson, leader of the ODOW Forest Wildlife Research Station in New Marshfield, Ohio. "High concentration is a problem and compounded by people feeding deer. The animals are nose to nose, with sick animals spreading the disease. It is like having 30 people in a room. If one has a cold, all risk getting it."

Elk farmers have destroyed hundreds of animals and cleaned and even removed the soil from the infected pens, Swanson said. When deer and elk are again placed in the pens, CWD comes back.

"That may signal the end of deer or elk ranching in some states," Swanson said.

The big mystery is how CWD jumped from the infected area of northeastern Colorado, southern Wyoming and southwestern Nebraska. [Another Al Qaeda blow against us? Now is the time to get off oil . Can the prions that cause CWD infect deer ticks?]

In recent months the disease has not only headed eastward, but westward, as well. The Continental Divide was to be a natural barrier that prevented CWD from heading westward.

That barrier has now been breached. Five of 329 wild mule deer killed in western Colorado tested positive for CWD in April in an area south of Craig, Colo.

Colorado wildlife officials and landowners worry that declaring northwest Colorado an "endemic area" for CWD, or requiring mandatory testing of animals killed by hunters, could have a major economic impact in an area noted for its big-game hunting.

Local outfitters and landowners who cash in on the business of sport hunting would be devastated if hunters are scared away by the specter of CWD in mule deer and elk.''

Contact D'Arcy Egan at

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