Management and Containment Must be Our Focus
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a highly-contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk, and other members of the deer family known as cervidae. It is from the same family of diseases as scrapie in sheep and mad cow disease in cattle. CWD affects a deer’s nervous system causing brain degeneration, extreme weight loss, abnormal behavior, and ultimately death. There is no known cure.
Infected animals may appear to have no symptoms for years while still spreading the disease through saliva, urine, and feces. Infected animals are also more susceptible to predation, being hit by vehicles, hunting mortality, and other causes of death. There is no evidence CWD can be transmitted to humans.
The disease is caused by a misfolded protein called a prion, which is nearly impossible to destroy and remains in the environment for many years. The abnormal prion is transmitted to new animals through direct animal-to-animal contact, as well as contact with feces, saliva, carcass parts, and contaminated environments, such as soil and plants. Dense deer herds and practices such as mineral licks and supplemental feeding concentrate deer into a small area. This speeds up and expands the transmission of this disease within the herd.
With Tennessee now the 26th CWD-positive state—along with our neighbors Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Virginia (Source: CWD Alliance)—it is more important than ever for Tennessee hunters to be vigilant. Research shows that focused management and containment as the two most important steps to take.
States that have lived with CWD for decades have learned that without a strong and firm effort to manage and contain CWD, it will become more common and spread into new areas, negatively affected deer populations significantly. This has the potential to change the face of conservation in Tennessee.
Currently, hunters and anglers are the single largest source of funds for wildlife management in the state. If CWD goes unchecked and is allowed to reduce our deer herd and deer hunting opportunities, fewer licenses and equipment will be sold. In turn, this will greatly decrease conservation funds generated from those purchases, which benefit all wildlife. As hunter numbers decline, time-honored traditions will disappear from Tennessee’s landscapes and we’ll lose the original advocates for sound conservation policy in the state.
Tennessee Wildlife Federation will continue to be the voice for hunters, and all those concerned about wildlife conservation in Tennessee—from fighting to uphold bans on baiting to always advocating for hunters to be at the center of efforts to combat CWD.
Right now, the most important step individuals can take is to educate themselves about how they can make sure they don’t accidentally spread the disease and all current regulations set by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.