October 2017
From Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

We’ve all heard that adage and it holds true for CWD preventative measures as well.

In a time when fantastic opportunities to harvest white-tailed deer exist in every county in Alabama, it is hard to imagine a time without this abundance. For our grandfathers’ generation, however, deer hunting opportunities and success were very different. In the early part of the 20th century, Alabama’s whitetail population was at an all-time low. At one point, it is believed Alabama had fewer than 5,000 deer statewide. After two centuries of market hunting, our deer population had all but disappeared from most of the state. These animals had been eradicated by those solely motivated by profit for their prized hides and by those who hunted year-round for subsistence giving little or no thought to the management practices we modern-day hunters have come to live by.

A turning point would come in 1907 with the creation of the Department of Game and Fish. Alabama’s first state law enforcement agency would employ 67 "Game and Fish Wardens," as they were called at that point, to begin the process of moving conservation efforts from the local level to the state level.The waste and abuse of our state’s natural resources would no longer go unchecked. With common sense conservation laws and restocking efforts, Alabama’s deer population along with countless other species of game and fish would rebound to what we enjoy today. This work goes on to this day, the Department of Game and Fish is now known as the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. This division performs a vital role in the management, protection and conservation of Alabama’s wildlife and aquatic resources.

One hundred and 10 years later, we face another grave threat to our state’s deer population: chronic wasting disease. This threat presents us with the possibility of a return to the reduced deer population of a century ago, but in a far more insidious manner. CWD is caused by a prion, basically a piece of genetic information an animal ingests that turns into a disease. CWD is very closely related to what is called "mad cow disease." It is 100 percent fatal, cannot be treated or cured, and is easily transmitted from deer to deer through saliva, urine or by touch. The mechanism of death for a deer with CWD is to waste away, not being able to move or eat. CWD has spread quickly in Canada and North America, and is now confirmed in 24 states. Alabama has tested for CWD since 2002 with uniformly negative results. The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division is committed to the work of keeping our deer population CWD free through a three-pronged approach.

1) Early in the fight against CWD, it was decided that the first and most effective way to keep Alabama CWD free was to prohibit the importation of members of the family cervidae (deer, moose, elk, caribou) known t

o be susceptible to the disease. The importation of these animals was prohibited by regulation and is actively investigated. Often those who seek to import deer from areas outside the state go to great lengths to conceal their activities. Since the adoption of the regulation banning import of deer, numerous cases have been made and successfully prosecuted. This has no doubt been instrumental in protecting Alabama’s deer herd from CWD.

2) Recently, regulations prohibiting the importation of certain body parts of any member of the family cervidae from a state, territory or foreign country where CWD has been confirmed were enacted. The insidious nature of CWD makes even certain parts of the animal dangerous long after it is dead. The prion causing CWD is not a living organism; it is believed to remain in an infectious state in the soil for up to 50 years. This makes those areas contaminated by infected cervidae dangerous for generations to come. Hunters who take deer in CWD-positive states may bring back deboned meat, raw capes or hides, and skull caps with all the brain tissue removed. This new regulation seeks to further protect our deer by taking into consideration the less obvious ways this disease can be spread as we learn more.

3) Currently, the Alabama WFF Division is attempting to enact a new regulation that would require the deer breeder industry in our state to record the sale and transport of deer into and out of their facilities through an online electronic database. In June 2015 in Texas, a CWD-positive deer was detected in a game breeder facility. Texas requires game breeders operating in their state to report movement and sale of deer through an electronic database. In Alabama, this same information is submitted on paperwork by mail. Due in part to the real-time traceability of deer within this industry that the electronic system gives Texas, CWD was effectively mitigated and controlled in pockets before it had the ability to spread throughout their state. If CWD were to be detected in a deer breeder facility in Alabama, currently it would take weeks to come to the same point Texas did in just hours.

It was through conscientious stewardship of our natural resources and common-sense laws that the generations before us, aided by the help of a few game wardens, brought our state back from a bleak point. This journey gave the Alabama WFF Division a deep understanding of what was expected of us when it comes to the conservation of our resources. The division continues to champion those positive changes that conserve and protect our abundant resources in the exact same manner they have for over 110 years.

 

From Chuck Sykes:

The staff of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources wants to ensure the public knows that we are doing everything within our power to prevent CWD from entering our great state. But, we can’t do it alone. It’s going to take all hunters becoming educated on the devastating impacts of CWD and being vigilant in the protection of one of our most treasured natural resources: the white-tailed deer.

 

 

Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. Matt Weathers is the chief of Law Enforcement for Alabama’s Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.