Samples of deer in conservation areas are likely to be taken through March.
BELVIDERE — Sharpshooters were to begin culling the Boone County Conservation District’s deer herd as early as this week after another deer tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
The most recent confirmed case of the fatal disease comes from a deer shot near Distillery Conservation Area during December’s firearm season, officials said.
Sharpshooters will hunt in the Distillery, Anderson Woods, Lib and Spencer Park conservation areas, sprawling wooded acres that border the Kishwaukee River west and south of Belvidere.
State wildlife officials fear that deer traveling that green corridor will spread the disease. Beaver Bluffs Conservation Area, which sits along Business U.S. 20 near Olson Road, also will be included.
The hunts will take place at dusk and likely run through the end of March. Conservation districts close at dusk.
“We’ll likely be out there about 3 or 4 in the afternoon and will be on-site until about 11 p.m. or so depending on how things are going,” said Doug Dufford, an Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist.
Chronic wasting disease was first confirmed in Winnebago County near Roscoe in 2002. Today, the state has recorded 41 confirmed cases. Most of the infected deer have been shot in Winnebago and Boone counties.
The first hunt at Boone County’s Kinnikinnick Conservation Area last fall found some deer infected with the disease.
Recently, two deer tested positive in Winnebago County forest preserves, where as of last week 100 deer had been killed by sharpshooters. Much of the hunting in Winnebago County is taking place along the Kishwaukee River corridor.
Dan Kane, executive director of the Boone County Conservation District, says the state has labeled the presence of CWD in the county a “serious threat” to the local deer population.
“I think they have established they have to try to address this at this point in time,” Kane said. “It’s not something we can just let go, given the high concentration of deer in the area.”
Both Kane and Dufford say killing hundreds of deer across the region will not have a long-term negative effect on the area’s deer population.
“They can repopulate fairly quickly,” Kane said. “They often have twins, even triplets.”
Deer tend to congregate when it’s colder, which is why this time of year is good for taking large numbers of deer to be sampled. An aerial survey of Boone County will help pinpoint pockets of deer herds.
“Our objective is to try to eliminate or reduce the spread of the disease,” said Dufford. “We are targeting areas where CWD is known to have occurred. It won’t be solved overnight.”
The carcasses of infected animals are destroyed, while those that test negative are donated to shelters and food pantries.
“The statistics are a little hard to understand,” Dufford said. “We have tested 10,000 deer statewide with 40-plus positives. Some might think, ‘What is the big deal?’
“But we believe the positives are showing up in localized patterns where the disease exists. In some of those areas, as many as 5 to 10 percent of the deer we have taken are showing up positive.”