Tennessee deer season extended in CWD 'high risk' zone
The Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission, the governing body over hunting & fishing regulations in Tennessee, enacted emergency regulations Thursday - including an extended hunting season - following the detection of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Hardeman and Fayette counties, just east of Memphis. Ten deer in those two counties have been confirmed as positive with CWD. In addition, three more deer have tested preliminarily positive from the same counties.
TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter told commissioners today that finding that many infected deer at once "is unprecedented." Finding such a large number of infected deer is indicative that CWD has likely been present in the area for a long time, perhaps years.
TWRA biologists identified the area within five miles of a CWD infection as the "Core Zone," and the area within ten miles as the "High Risk Zone." That "High Risk" designation has now been assigned to three West Tennessee counties - Fayette, Hardeman and McNairy.
Effective Dec. 29 there will be no more online check-in of harvested deer allowed in those three counties on weekends. Hunters will be required to take deer harvested on weekends to a designated physical checking station manned by TWRA personnel where samples can be obtained to test for CWD. TWRA is also paying selected processors who assist with the collection effort.
There is a complete exportation ban of harvested deer out of the high risk zone unless the deer has been completely deboned, as per TWRA regulations.
They have established a complete prohibition of feeding of wildlife (not including birdfeeders with 100 feet of a home and other normal agricultural practices).
Finally Commissioners voted to extend the deer hunting season in Fayette, Hardeman and McNairy counties until January 31, 2019. There is an additional bag limit of one antlered deer and NO LIMIT on antlerless deer.
Wildlife Commissioner Tony Sanders said the extended season is not necessarily an effort to reduce the herd. TWRA primarily wants to obtain more deer to samples. He says the Agency will be placing freezers throughout the three counties area where hunters can drop off deer heads. Sanders said the Agency hopes obtain at least 300 additional samples per county.
He says all public land will be open for deer hunting during the extended season in the three counties. State WMA's in those counties can be found on TWRA GIS Mapping system but it includes Wolf River WMA (Unit 1 & 2) and Chickasaw State Forest & WMA.
CWD is a contagious and a fatal neurological disorder that affects members of the deer family known scientifically as cervids which, in Tennessee, include deer and elk. Currently, 26 other states and three Canadian provinces have documented the presence of CWD. It is transmitted through animal-to-animal contact, animal contact with a contaminated environment, and with contaminated feed or water sources. While CWD is considered 100 percent fatal once contracted, it is not known to harm humans or livestock.
In spite of that Commissioner Sanders is worried about the impact of CWD in Tennessee.
"I would be foolish not to be concerned," said Sanders. "What the impact will actually be, we'll just have to wait and see. But 26 other states have identified CWD and they all continue to have hunting and viable herds."
Like others he is surprised by the detection of such a large number of deer right off the bat. When most states have identified the presence of CWD it has been detected in only one or two animals, versus the 13 current cases being investigated in Tennessee.
"Everybody is trying to figure that one out," said Sanders. "I think there's going to be a lot of communication and education effort. There will be an immediate reaction but as we get further into I think the education and understanding of this disease will help and hunters will keep hunting."
Realizing for many years that CWD has been a potential threat to Tennessee's deer and elk herds, TWRA enacted a massive CWD Response Plan a year ago.
Again, there is no evidence of CWD being transferred to humans, or even to domestic livestock. However in the interest of complete safety the Agency has posted specific steps for hunters that can decrease their potential risk of exposure to CWD:
- Do not shoot, handle or eat meat from deer and elk that look sick or are acting strangely or are found dead (road-kill).
- When field-dressing a deer wear latex or rubber gloves, minimize how much you handle the organs of the animal - particularly the brain or spinal cord tissues.
- Do not use household knives or other kitchen utensils for field dressing.
- If you have your deer or elk commercially processed, consider asking that your animal be processed individually to avoid mixing meat from multiple animals.
- If your animal tests positive for CWD, do not eat meat from that animal.
Sanders notes that there is collateral damage. He says Tennessee Wildlife Federation officials have pointed out that the detection of CWD will have a major impact on their Hunters for the Hungry, where hunters are allowed to donate venison for the needy.
Complete information and updates regarding CWD in Tennessee can be found here.