Despite single digit temperatures and brutal winds, 27 deer were collected, and sampled over the weekend, to help determine the extent of Chronic Wasting Disease in southeast Allamakee County. Landowners and regular season hunters from the area are working with scientific collector permits to harvest adult deer across 31 sections, in two townships, near Harpers Ferry.

The goal is to collect 150 samples on private property and 50 in Yellow River State Forest, after three deer—harvested in the area during the 2014 hunting season—tested positive for CWD. In 2013, the first wild deer to test positive was taken in the same vicinity. Those four samples are the only CWD-positive returns on wild Iowa deer, among 57,000 samples collected, since 2002.

These special collection samples will be added to the 311 from deer harvested during the recently completed hunting season in the same sections.

“We are trying to keep this local and work with the people who have always helped us with CWD sampling through the years,” explains DNR wildlife biologist Terry Haindfield, who is coordinating the project. “A lot of them attended the public meetings last week, where we explained how the collection process would work. We want to see what is happening and the extent of the disease.”

Through the weekend, the DNR issued more than 60 scientific collectors permits, listing nearly 260 participants who were allowed multiple sample tags. Early participants this past weekend brought harvested deer to the CWD collection site, or called wildlife workers to their locations, to collect lymph nodes and brain stems. Collecting on public land will cease when 50 deer samples have been obtained. Collection will cease when overall samples have reached 200 or by March 15, whichever arrives first.

The samples will be tested at the National Veterinary Services Lab in Ames. As results are available, hunters will be notified. Any positive deer will be collected and disposed of by the DNR. Adult deer are targeted, since the always fatal disease does not show up in testing until the animal is about 18 months old.

About one third of the area lies within Yellow River Forest. The public should be aware of the presence of hunting activity — and wear blaze orange clothing in the area during the next couple of weeks. Wildlife officials believe they have sufficient participants to reach their goal by March 15. In addition to those harvested, if the public would report any road-killed deer in the area to the DNR, those will be tested.

CWD is a neurological disease affecting primarily deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein –a prion — that attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. Signs include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head. It is always fatal, when an animal contracts it. The additional data is important, to determine the next course of action to slow the disease spread in Iowa.

“With these individual confirmations, we treat them as sparks, rather than as a wildfire, at this time,” emphasizes Haindfield. “Many of the people involved were at the public meetings and understand what we are dealing with. That helps in the effort, to delineate where this disease is and how to curtail it at this level.”