CWD Monitoring Sites at Deer Check Stations. Entire heads not needed this year, but procedure will make taxidermy difficult.

JEFFERSON CITY — Hunters in 30 counties around Missouri will be asked to take part in the second year of systematic testing for chronic wasting disease (CWD). Conservation officials say they hope they will again get all negative tests for the brain-wasting disease.

As last year, the Missouri Department of Conservation will try to gather samples from 200 deer in each of 30 counties. Participation will be voluntary. Unlike last year, this year’s procedure won’t require removing entire deer heads to obtain brain stem tissue. CWD researchers have developed a new, equally reliable test that uses retropharyngeal lymph nodes, which are located in the back of deer’s throats.

Last year, hunters who wanted to participate in the testing but also wanted to hang their trophy antlers on the wall could choose to have the antlers and a skull plate sawed off the head before it was removed. Although heads from sampled animals will be left intact, the cuts that will be made in the skin just behind the jaw of each sampled deer still will interfere with trophy mounting.

This year’s samples will be taken at check stations in the following counties: Audrain, Barry, Boone, Buchanan, Cass, Dallas, Daviess, Dent, Gentry, Grundy, Harrison, Knox, Lewis, Macon, Maries, Marion Mercer, Miller, Newton, Nodaway, Oregon, Osage, Ray, Saline, Scott, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, Washington, Webster and Worth. Samples will be taken during the opening weekend of firearms deer season in most counties.

Eric Kurzejeski, resource science supervisor for the Conservation Department in Columbia, said the Conservation Department still has no indication that CWD is present in Missouri but is taking no chances. During the firearms deer hunting season Nov. 15 through Nov. 25, the agency hopes to take tissue samples from 6,000 deer. During the 2004 firearms deer season they will collect samples from deer in counties not checked last year or this year.

Hunters who agree to let their deer be tested won’t be delayed for long at check stations. “It should be much quicker than last year, and that only took about five minutes when we had to remove the heads.”

Tissue samples from all the deer will be sent to a federal laboratory in Wyoming. Test results will be released as soon as all tests are complete. Last year’s tests took nearly five months to complete, due to the large volume of samples from many states and limited laboratory capacity. “We hope to improve on that turn-around time this year,” said Kurzejeski.

While there is no evidence that CWD can infect humans, hunters who take part in the testing will be contacted if the tests show CWD infection. “We were very pleased not to have to make any of those calls last year, and we’re hoping this year will be the same.”

Missouri hunters should be aware that Illinois has loosened restrictions on bringing deer and elk into that state, but there still are some restrictions. Kurzejeski said Illinois is allowing hunters to bring deer and elk hunted out of state back into Illinois so long as the carcasses are brought to a licensed meat processor or licensed taxidermist within 72 hours of entry into the state.

The rule amends an earlier prohibition on the transportation of hunter-harvested deer and elk carcasses into Illinois. Hunters also may bring boneless meat, antlers, antlers attached to skull caps, hides, upper canine teeth and finished taxidermy mounts into Illinois. Details of Illinois deer and elk importation rules are available online at http://dnr.state.il.us/pubaffairs/2002/CWD.htm.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk. Kurzejeski emphasized that CWD is not considered a threat to human health or livestock. “The World Health Organization and the Missouri Department of Health agree there is no evidence that CWD infects humans or domestic livestock,” he said. “This disease has been known for more than 30 years, and in all that time not one of the nation’s 16 million deer and elk hunters has ever been known to get CWD. It hasn’t affected livestock, either.”

Kurzejeski said deer hunters should take common-sense measures when harvesting and handling deer. To begin with, he said, it makes sense not to shoot any deer that appears unhealthy. If you do shoot a deer that is acting strangely, report it to a conservation agent. He said it also makes sense to wear rubber gloves when field dressing or butchering wild game.

Missouri counties where deer were tested last year were Andrew, Bates, Bollinger, Caldwell, Callaway, Carroll, Chariton, Christian, Clark, Clay, Clinton, St. Francois, Franklin, Greene, Holt, Jasper, Jefferson, Johnson, Madison, Monroe, Pike, Platte, Ripley, St. Clair, St. Louis, Scotland, Sullivan, Taney, Texas, and Warren.