TALLAHASSEE — Hunters don’t have to worry about chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Florida deer.

At least, not for now, according to state tests.

“All test results, so far, show Florida’s deer population is disease-free, and in very good condition,” said Tim Breault, the assistant director of wildlife for the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During the 2002-03 hunting season, FWC biologists and technicians took samples from 603 deer killed on wildlife management areas and private hunting lands across the state. Of those, 483 samples were submitted for CWD testing at the state’s Wildlife Research Lab in Gainesville, and testing has been completed on about half of the samples.

“We are going to keep checking, because early detection would be our best defense against the disease,” Breault said.

CWD is a disease of antlered species, and was first diagnosed in captive deer in Colorado in the mid 1960s. Over a period of years, the disease showed up in deer in Wyoming, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and parts of Canada.

But when it showed up in Wisconsin deer, and most recently Minnesota and Illinois deer, a lot of red flags went up because it was the first known cases east of the Mississippi River.

It prompted conservation agencies like the FWC to step up monitoring.

Scientists don’t know how CWD spreads, but they suspect it is transmitted by animal-to-animal contact.

That makes white-tailed deer, the species found throughout Florida, particularly vulnerable because of the high social nature of these animals.

Last September, the FWC adopted an emergency rule prohibiting the importation of deer into Florida, which have not been certified free of CWD. It will be at least 2004 before any deer will qualify forcertification.

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