Spread of chronic wasting disease in county strikes close to home

Over the past few years I have talked to Jasmine Batten several times, so when I answered a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize, it was pleasant to hear a familiar voice.

If her name doesn’t ring a bell for others, her work certainly will. Batten is the wildlife health program supervisor for the state Department of Conservation. She is the field general in the local army’s battle with chronic wasting disease.

All of my previous conversations with Batten have started with a telephone call or email from me to her. Why pray tell was she calling me?

This buck looked healthy chasing a doe through the woods,
but a post-harvest test proved he was infected with chronic wasting disease.

I had a fairly good idea of the answer before she confirmed that John Winkelman, the hunter on her list to call, was the same outdoor writer she had talked to frequently in the past. I shot a pretty nice buck with my bow the weekend before firearms season in southern Jefferson County and submitted a sample in the voluntary CWD testing program.

As a courtesy, she was calling to tell me that my deer had tested positive for chronic wasting disease. With still more samples to test and confirm, my deer was one of three new cases found in Jefferson County this year. In Ste. Genevieve County, four more deer have tested positive so far. With more than 20,000 tests complete, 28 new cases have been identified statewide.

Looking at a map of the previous positive test results from rural Festus, I knew I was hunting in an area with increased possibility for disease detection. None of the little gray boxes actually reached the farm property where my tree stand hangs, but I was in the neighborhood.

Because my voluntary submission was ahead of the thousands of bits collected in the mandatory sampling days of opening weekend, I was surprised that my conservation number continued to say “pending” when I looked online for results a month later.

It’s protocol for the state biologists to call hunters when they get a positive result. Everyone else finds out by checking for the news on the department website. Batten said the conversations she has with hunters allow questions and answers about next steps. Reactions range from “no big deal” to frightened heartache.

My reaction was somewhere in between. I was disappointed that all the work that follows the shot had gone for naught, but I was glad that I hadn’t done anything with the meat except store it in the freezer waiting for the results to arrive.

There is no evidence that the disease can cross species from deer to humans, and the butchering I did never included cutting into the spinal column or skull where the disease can be found. But I don’t want to be the test case that proves transmission is possible. Many times over the past few years, as an advocate for testing, I have said I wouldn’t eat or feed deer to my family that had not been tested.

Batten asked for a more specific location pinpointing the spot that had marked my lucky day. The map of southern Jefferson County now includes new shaded areas marking positive cases. The proximity to previous positive tests is not a prerequisite because mature bucks often travel significant distances, Batten said.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly infectious disease that eventually kills all animals it affects. Hunters can help manage the disease by getting the deer they harvest tested. More information about testing options, and the map showing positive case locations, is available at mdc.mo.gov/cwd.

The next steps for me is disposal of the meat I have in my freezer. Batten said it could be discarded in a landfill or through municipal trash pickup, but she also offered that the department would pick it up for incineration.

The department also could offer a replacement tag, she said, but I declined since I still have a couple unfilled permits left. Now it’s time to get back to work with the remaining days of archery season and the alternate methods portions. I’m going to miss those butterflied buck chops.

Originally published by Leader Publications Dec. 16, 2021.

Published by John J. Winkelman

A freelance outdoor writer for more than 30 years

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