Last Updated on December 20, 2021 10:09 am
Officials at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission are impressed by the number of deer heads they have received for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing this season. More samples than in the past have been sent to the lab over the past couple of months, and with a couple weeks left of deer season, agency biologists hope hunters will continue to make this an exceptional surveillance year by submitting samples.
CWD has not been detected in North Carolina, but wildlife biologists say that proactive monitoring is imperative for keeping the state’s deer herd healthy. The agency’s CWD surveillance efforts are statewide, however there is a special focus on Alleghany, Rockingham, Stokes and Surry counties because of a positive CWD case reported in Montgomery County, Virginia, this past spring just over 30 miles from the border.
“We are relying on hunter cooperation, as well as participation from taxidermists and meat processors,” stated Moriah Boggess, deer biologist for the Wildlife Commission. “We’ve been impressed with voluntary donations by hunters at our testing sample drop-off stations so far and encourage everyone to keep up the good work through the end of the season.”
Agency officials encourage hunters to:
- Voluntarily submit your deer head at any testing drop-off station statewide.
- Allow biologists to remove your deer’s lymph nodes at a check station. Contact your local district biologist for locations and dates or to arrange a drop off.
- Report sick deer to the Wildlife Helpline at 1-866-318-2401
- Follow importation laws.
CWD remains a looming threat to the state’s white-tailed deer population and our deer hunting traditions. CWD is caused by abnormal proteins, called prions, that slowly spread through a deer’s nervous system, eventually causing spongy holes in the brain that lead to death. The disease is spread between deer through direct contact and environmental contamination from infected saliva, urine and feces of live deer or carcasses and body parts. There is no vaccine, treatment or cure, and, given enough time, the disease is always fatal. The Wildlife Commission has been monitoring for CWD since 1999 through coordinated statewide surveillance. Samples from over 15,000 white-tailed deer have been tested, and to date, CWD has not been detected in North Carolina’s deer herd.
There is no reliable USDA approved live test for CWD, so effective surveillance methods require the testing of dead deer, primarily hunter harvests. The Wildlife Commission is making it easier than ever for hunters to help surveillance efforts by setting up more check stations around the state and installing drop-off stations where hunters can voluntarily submit their deer heads for testing anytime in the season.
Testing is important because it’s nearly impossible to tell if a deer has CWD by observation because signs of illness aren’t visible for at least 16 months after infection. The slow incubation period and the ease of transmission is why wildlife biologists say being proactive and following current regulations is imperative.
Importation of whole carcasses of cervids (deer, elk, moose or reindeer/caribou) from any state, Canadian province or foreign country is prohibited. If you are transporting cervid carcass parts into North Carolina, you must follow processing and packaging regulations, and carcass parts or containers of cervid meat or carcass parts must be labeled and identified.
To date, CWD prions have not been documented to cause sickness in humans, but closely related prion diseases, like mad cow disease, have made the jump. The CDC does not recommend the consumption of CWD-infected meat.
Other states already dealing with CWD have experienced a decline in their deer populations where the disease is most prevalent, a decrease in mature bucks and some hunters have become wary of eating harvested meat. It’s changed the deer hunting culture and tradition, which Wildlife Commission officials want to avoid in North Carolina.
“Deer hunting is important to North Carolinians’ heritage and food systems. We are ready to manage CWD if it’s detected, but we’re doing everything we can to keep it out,” said Boggess.
The Wildlife Commission recently adopted a comprehensive Chronic Wasting Disease Response Plan that will be activated immediately if CWD is detected within the state. The response plan was developed by wildlife biologists with input from other state wildlife agencies and in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS), which manages farmed cervids. Although the NCDA&CS also has a plan specific to their oversight, the two agencies work collaboratively.