Import Ban on Deer and Elk Continues

PROVIDENCE – The Department of Environmental Management is asking hunters to help monitor the state’s deer population and to take special precautions when hunting deer and elk out of state. It is a continuing part of DEM’s efforts to keep Rhode Island deer herds free of Chronic Wasting Disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease is a progressive neurological disease that is always fatal to deer and elk. It has been found in wild deer and elk in limited areas of several midwest and mountain states, and two Canadian provinces.

For the third year, DEM is again joining much of the country in conducting a systematic Chronic Wasting Disease surveillance program, and is asking hunters to assist by donating heads of yearlings and adults harvested in state. Many of the samples are likely to be collected during the muzzleloader season (October 30 through November 19 and December 20 through December 26) and shotgun deer-hunting season (November 27 through December 12) at the four biological check stations. However, hunters may participate by contacting Lori Gibson, DEM principal wildlife biologist, at 789-0281, to submit fresh samples. Hunters are asked to label submissions with the location of harvest.

Priority will be given to testing the brain tissue and lymph nodes of symptomatic deer and free ranging deer surrounding deer farms. In addition, hunter-harvested deer and auto kills will also be sampled. This collaborative effort is being supported by funding from the federal government, including the US Department of Agriculture and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

DEM, along with a number of nearby states, continues its ban on the importation of cervids – namely, deer and elk – into the state, and the release into the wild of any captive or wild cervid. Although the ban does not affect the import of hides, venison, or deer carcasses legally harvested in other states, Rhode Island hunters who hunt deer and elk out-of-state can assist by following safety guidelines to minimize the chance of spreading the disease to Rhode Island deer herds.

Michael Lapisky, DEM Deputy Chief of Wildlife, says hunters should remove all nervous tissue – brain and spinal cord – from deer and elk meat before bringing it back to Rhode Island to prevent the infectious agent, an abnormally shaped protein called a CWD prion, from entering Rhode Island. Although the method of transmission is not fully understood, disease experts believe Chronic Wasting Disease is passed through direct animal-to-animal contact and possibly by indirect contact with the highly resistant CWD prion, in a contaminated environment. Prions have not been found in muscle tissue.

Although currently there is no evidence that Chronic Wasting Disease is naturally transmissible to humans or to animals other than deer and elk, DEM suggests that hunters follow simple precautions when hunting:

  • Wear rubber gloves when field dressing carcasses;
  • Bone out meat from the animal;
  • Minimize the handling of brain and spinal cord, eyes, spleen, and lymph nodes; and avoid consuming these tissues;
  • Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.

For more information, visit the DEM website at www.state.ri.us/dem and click on “Publications” to view a brochure on Chronic Wasting Disease, or visit the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website at www.cwd-info.org.