Biologists say a recent jump in chronic wasting disease rates among Wisconsin deer might spell trouble for deer in West Virginia’s Hampshire County.
Infection rates in Wisconsin’s Dane and Iowa counties rose sharply in 2008 after remaining relatively low for six years. Jim Crum, deer project leader for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, believes Hampshire County whitetails might someday experience a similar increase.
“What’s happening to them is probably what’s going to happen to us,” Crum said. “There might be some factor somewhere that makes us different from Wisconsin, but right now I don’t know that there is.”
DNR officials have battled to keep the Hampshire County outbreak contained since the disease was discovered in 2005. They instituted a special countywide antlerless-deer hunting season to reduce the whitetail population, set up special regulations for transporting deer carcasses to keep the disease from being spread, and prohibited deer baiting to keep deer from congregating in potentially infected areas.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials took similar measures. In both states, the infection rate hovered in the 5 percent to 7 percent range. Then, last year, Wisconsin’s rate took an unexpected jump.
The greatest increase occurred in bucks 2 1/2 years and older. The rate went from 10 percent to roughly 15 percent. Biologists noted smaller — but still significant — increases in yearling does, yearling bucks and older-aged does.
Davin Lopez, CWD project leader for the Wisconsin DNR, told the Wisconsin State Journal the increase “could be our scientific sign of the dramatic increase in prevalence other states have documented for CWD. The disease has shown exponential growth rates once it starts growing.”
In Wyoming, for example, the infection rate remained around 11 percent until 1998, when it jumped to 15 percent. Starting in 2000, it increased 2.6 percent a year and now exceeds 35 percent.
Crum said what has happened in other states could eventually happen in West Virginia. “If you aren’t reducing the source of the infection, it could happen. We’re trying to reduce the source, but we don’t know for sure if we are. That’s one of the reasons we keep going over there and [killing deer for the purpose of] taking samples.”
DNR sharpshooters killed 199 Hampshire County whitetails this spring. So far, tissue samples from 114 of those animals have been tested. The rest are still at the lab.
“From what we’ve seen in the samples so far, our prevalence rate is increasing, too,” said Crum. “Nothing like Wisconsin’s, but it’s still an increase. Each time we’ve looked, using the same geographic area, we’ve gotten the same result — a small increase.”
DNR officials believe they’d have a better chance to contain the disease if they could convince local and state politicians to expand the Hampshire County CWD containment zone. Currently, the zone includes only the portion of the county north of U.S. Route 50.
Since CWD-positive deer have been found south of the highway, Crum believes a failure to expand the zone is asking for trouble.
“One of the biggest things we have going against us right now is the politicians and political appointees who are keeping us from expanding the no-baiting and no-feeding area, which is one of the best tools we have for preventing deer from spreading the disease through direct contact,” he said.