Springfield– The Department of Natural Resources today filed an emergency rule to limit the importation of hunter-harvested deer and elk, to restrict the importation of live animals and to ban the feeding of wild deer.

“Animals with chronic wasting disease have been found within 40 miles of Illinois’ northern border. CWD is a fatal neurological disease, which strikes deer and elk. There is no vaccine to prevent it and it is incurable once an animal contracts it,” said DNR Director Brent Manning. “CWD has spread to a number of states. We must continue to do all we can here in Illinois to keep it from infecting our herd.”

To date, no animals from Illinois have tested positive for CWD, but surveillance efforts for the disease have been expanded.

The emergency rule (17 Ill. Adm. Code 635) takes effect immediately. The rule will be in effect for 150 days while a permanent rule is being adopted.

The rule bans the importation of hunter-harvested deer and elk carcases into Illinois, except for deboned meat, antlers, antlers attached to skull caps, hides, upper canine teeth, and finished taxidermist mounts. Skull caps must be cleaned of all brain and muscle tissue.

“This step will prevent hunters from bringing potentially diseased animals into Illinois and discarding their parts in a manner that could result in contamination of Illinois’ deer herd,” Manning said. He noted that CWD is most concentrated in portions of the infected animals that typically are not consumed by humans, such as the brain and spinal cord.

The Department also is banning feeding of wild deer and other wildlife in areas where wild deer are present. The ban includes food, salt, mineral blocks and other food products, with some exceptions. For example, bird and squirrel feeders close to homes and incidental feeding of wildlife within active livestock operations, are exempt from the ban. For a complete list of the exemptions see the rule on the Department’s web site at http://dnr.state.il.us/legal/rule-status.htm.

“We know that people enjoy feeding birds and squirrels and we aren’t trying to impact homeowners and their individual feeders. Nor are we trying to impact active livestock operations,” Manning said. “However, the fact is bait sites where deer congregate have the potential to contribute to the spread of various diseases that are transmitted by animal to animal contact, as CWD appears to be. Eliminating this practice will enhance our chances of controlling CWD in the event it enters Illinois and will also lessen the spread of other diseases among the deer herd.”

The Department is also implementing regulations to minimize the threat of chronic wasting disease entering Illinois through the interstate transportation of captive deer and elk and to monitor captive herds already in Illinois. DNR shares responsibility with the Department of Agriculture in regulating captive deer and elk on game farms. DNR’s new rule complements new regulations being adopted by the Agriculture Department for diseased animals. Currently an emergency rule banning the importation of captive deer and elk into Illinois is in place, but it expires Sept. 15, 2002.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk. The disease affects the brains of infected animals, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose coordination and eventually die. It is not known to be contagious to livestock or humans.

CWD has been diagnosed in wild, free-ranging deer and elk as well as in captive animals in a number of western states but recently has been found in neighboring Wisconsin. Illinois has been testing suspect animals for the last five years, as well as taking samples during deer hunting season.

“The consequences of a chronic wasting disease outbreak in Illinois are potentially great,” said Manning, who noted deer hunting in Illinois contributes an estimated $400 million to Illinois’ economy. “We must take all appropriate actions that good science call for. For the health of the deer herd, as well as its impact on the economy of this state, we will continue to work with the Illinois Department of Agriculture on this matter.”

A task force, comprised of key staff from both agencies, has been working for months to develop plans to address surveillance of wild deer and captive herds, import and export of deer and elk and a planned response to a potential chronic wasting disease outbreak in Illinois.