The discovery of chronic wasting disease in a mule deer in the Sacramento Mountains in June has prompted the Department of Game and Fish to require deer and elk hunters observe restrictions regarding the handling of animals harvested in some areas of southern New Mexico.
Beginning with the 2005-2006 seasons, hunters will be allowed to remove only boned meat, hides, teeth and decontaminated skullcaps from Big Game Management Unit 34, an approximately 2,000-square-mile area east of Alamogordo and south of Ruidoso and the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The restrictions were activated as a precaution against spreading chronic wasting disease, which previously had been found only in Unit 19 in or near the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces. Similar restrictions may be required in portions of Units 29 and 30, which border Unit 34.
There currently is no evidence of CWD being transmitted to humans or livestock. The disease is fatal to deer and elk, causing the animals to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and lose control of bodily functions. The origin of CWD in New Mexico is unknown. The disease has been found in 12 wild deer in New Mexico since 2002, when it first was discovered at the main headquarters housing area of White Sands Missile Range east of Las Cruces. To date, no CWD-infected elk have been found in New Mexico, although the disease has been found in wild and captive deer and elk in eight states and two Canadian provinces.
Hunters in Unit 34 and its bordering units, Unit 29 to the south and Unit 30 to the southeast, will be asked to assist the Department’s CWD surveillance and research by providing the fresh heads of harvested animals for testing. The Department wants to take tissue samples from every deer and every elk killed in Unit 34 for CWD testing. The agency also wants to increase its testing of deer killed in Units 29 and 30. Approximately 9,000 hunters who were successful in drawings for permits in the three units will receive more instructions with their permits. Deer hunters who hunt on private land can find written instructions when they purchase their licenses.
Department check stations will be located throughout the affected units to assist hunters, collect and test animal heads and ensure hunters are complying with restrictions on removing animal parts from the field.
Decontamination solutions will be provided at the check stations and trained personnel will help hunters soak their legally harvested skullcaps so they can be removed from Unit 34. The Department requires fleshed skullcaps to be soaked in a 50-50 solution of bleach and water for 30 minutes to decontaminate the parts.
For more information about chronic wasting disease and how hunters can assist in research and prevention efforts, visit the Department web site at www.wildlife.state.nm.us. More information about chronic wasting disease also can be found on the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance web site at www.cwd-info.org/.