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Volunteers step forward to help DNR to collect additional deer samples near Harpers Ferry to look for chronic wasting disease

Nine samples from hunter-harvested deer from near Harpers Ferry during the 2016 hunting seasons have tested positive for chronic wasting disease, bringing the total of CWD positive deer from the area to 15.

The disease is spread from animal to animal through nose to nose contact and through environmental contamination from urine, feces and saliva left by positive deer. There is no cure once an animal becomes infected.

The DNR met with hunters and landowners in Harpers Ferry and Waukon on Jan. 18 to discuss collecting additional deer samples from areas where data is limited and to get more samples from the immediate areas where new positive cases were confirmed. At each meeting, attendees volunteered to help collect additional samples.

“We hope to collect 250 to 300 samples from mature deer from a specific area around Harpers Ferry and that will do two things – provide information on specific areas in the target zone where we do not have any data and to remove animals from the area where CWD-positive deer have been found,” said Dr. Dale Garner, chief of the Iowa DNR’s Wildlife Bureau.

“There is no good news when it comes to chronic wasting disease. We know that if we leave it alone, it’s going to spread. By removing adult deer, we are trying to target animals that are most likely to carry the prion, which will slow the spread of the disease while still allowing for quality deer hunting experiences each fall.”

Chronic wasting disease involves a misshapen protein called a prion. Since this is a protein, a deer’s body does not recognize it as a foreign substance, so it does not produce an antibody response.

“There is no way to kill the prion and the disease is always fatal,” Garner said.

The DNR established a scientific collection effort from Jan. 21 to Feb. 5 in a defined area near Harpers Ferry.

Participants met with local DNR wildlife staff to discuss how to remove the deer, where they planned to focus their effort, and how to contact the DNR to provide the lymph nodes for testing.

Once a sample is submitted, it takes two to three weeks to get results back.

Participants must have a scientific collectors permit and tags and must contact the DNR within 24 hours of collecting deer to arrange for sample collection.  There is no fee for the permits. Participants may use shotguns, muzzleloaders, bows and rifles .24 caliber and larger. All other regulations, including the blaze orange requirement and shooting hours restrictions, apply. 

Permits are available from Noon to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on the weekends until Feb. 5 at the Allamakee County Conservation office at 427 North First Street, in Harpers Ferry. A group leader may sign up other members by having their names and phone numbers.

A similar effort took place in 2015. The collection had a goal of 200 samples, of which 105 deer were collected, providing 85 usable samples. Twenty fawns were not sampled.  

The Iowa DNR began collecting deer tissue samples in 2002 after the CWD outbreak in Wisconsin. Since then, more than 61,000 samples from wild deer and 4,000 samples from hunting preserve deer have been collected and tested. The first wild deer tested positive in 2013, followed by three in 2014, two in 2015 and nine so far in 2016.

Chronic wasting disease is not just an Iowa issue; Minnesota has had a spike in deer testing positive for the disease as well. Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri and Wisconsin are all battling this disease.

Participation is voluntary and there are ways other than removing deer to help slow the spread of CWD in this area. 

“We encourage everyone to not use piles of feed or salt-mineral licks to attract deer.  These baited sites increase the concentration of deer which facilitates transmission of the disease,” said Garner.  “And don’t leave a carcass or bones from this region to decay on the land.  Place remains in heavy-duty plastic garbage bags to be properly disposed of in a landfill.”

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