NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Hunters must help Indiana DNR fight threat of deadly deer disease

Indiana hunters need to cooperate with the Department of Natural Resources in response to the imminent threat of a disease that could devastate the deer population.

Chronic wasting disease, first discovered in Colorado in the 1970s, has spread to 24 states and is now near Indiana’s borders. It is a highly contagious, fatal disease that cannot be stopped from entering the state, Indiana Deer Hunter’s Association president Joe Bacon told The Indianapolis Star.

There is no known cure or prevention of the disease, but its spread can be slowed. And we implore hunters to work with the Indiana DNR to take this threat seriously and help to contain the disease as much as possible.

CWD (also known as “zombie deer disease”) is a neurologic disease that affects white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. It is spread through bodily fluids like feces, saliva, blood or urine either through direct contact or indirectly through environmental contamination of soil, plants, food or water.

The DNR says CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. The brain of an infected animal degenerates, often causing emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and ultimately death.

“Hunters and Hoosiers are and should be scared of the disease reaching Indiana,” Bacon said. “Someone once told me this is Pandora’s box opened up, and I believe it.”

According to a report in Forbes Tuesday, at least 24 states have had deer, elk or moose infected with CWD, the latest being Tennessee. But Indiana is on high alert since the disease has been found in white-tailed deer in Illinois and Michigan within 30 miles of the Indiana border.

John Goss, former director at both the state’s DNR and Wildlife Federation, told the Star CWD could reach Indiana as soon as the upcoming hunting season.

Indiana DNR biologists and staff at DNR have been collecting tissue samples from deer killed by hunters as well as road-kill for CWD testing. To date, all samples in the state have tested negative for the disease.

Now the Indiana DNR is conducting targeted CWD surveillance in northeast and northwest Indiana during the 2018-2019 deer hunting season. Biologists have been collecting samples (lymph nodes at the junction of the head and neck) from deer harvested within specific surveillance areas. Steuben County is the core surveillance area in northeast Indiana. Core surveillance areas are those of high interest due to a proximate, known disease risk.

The DNR is asking hunters to have their harvested deer tested for the disease, especially in the designated surveillance areas. While testing is not mandatory now, once the disease shows up in Indiana, it likely will be.

“Once confirmed in Indiana,” Bacon said, “I’m not sure any responsible deer hunter would or should eat a deer without it being tested.”

While there is currently no evidence that CWD can affect humans, both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend people not eat deer that test positive.

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