COLUMBIA — An interim committee of the Missouri House of Representatives will begin examining strategies to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease among elk and white-tailed deer in Missouri.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease that causes brain degeneration and is spread through physical contact or contact with soil containing the waste of an infected deer, elk and moose.
In Missouri, there have been 10 confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease in free-ranging deer, all from a 29-square-mile area along the northern border of Linn and Macon counties, according to a Missouri Conservation Department news release.
The committee was appointed by House Speaker Tim Jones and will be lead by Rep. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo. Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, who represents southern Boone County, also is a member.
"My goal is for the committee to help separate the facts from the fiction when it comes to this disease so that we can make good decisions based on scientific facts that will help protect these animals and our hunting industry," Jones said in a House news release.
The Missouri Department of Conservation has implemented several regulation changes to inhibit the spread of chronic wasting disease in the CWD Containment Zone, which comprises Adair, Chariton, Linn, Macon, Randolph and Sullivan counties. These strategies include:
- Banning the placement of grain, salt products, mineral and other consumable products in order to prevent the unnatural concentration of white-tailed deer in the containment zone.
- Creating a special harvest provision that rescinds the four-point antler restriction in the containment zone. Male deer have been found to exhibit chronic wasting disease at higher rates.
- Discouraging the movement of deer brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen and lymph nodes from deer killed in the zone.
Matt Dunfee, coordinator for the nongovernmental Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, said states where chronic wasting disease has been found need to monitor and manage the disease. Monitoring strategies include testing animals that have been taken by hunters for the disease. Management strategies include lowering animal densities and preventing the movement of deer and elk from infected areas in order to decrease the probability of transmission.
Dunfee said surveillance is the most important strategy in states where chronic wasting disease has been found.
"Catching it as soon as you can is the absolute best response method," Dunfee said.
Dunfee also said that legislative or policy blocks that prevent the movement of animals from infected areas into the state are beneficial.
Missouri Department of Conservation state wildlife veterinarian Kelly Straka said no cases of chronic wasting disease have been found in the elk herd that has been introduced to Missouri at Peck Ranch. Before biologists brought that herd to Missouri, it was tested for nine different pathogens, including chronic wasting disease, Straka said.
It's important to remember, Straka said, that there is no reliable screening test for chronic wasting disease that can be done on live animals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture certified the elk herd as coming from an area that was at low risk for chronic wasting disease, Straka said. The elk came from Kentucky, where there have been no confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease.
Any elk that dies in Missouri also is tested for chronic wasting disease, Straka said.
"With this disease, you have to be proactive," Straka said. "Retroactive won't work."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.