Dirty dozen: CWD cases spike in Jefferson County deer

When the deer I shot last fall tested positive for chronic wasting disease, I was sad but not totally shocked. At the time it just seemed unlucky that of all the deer sampled in Jefferson County, mine was one of only three with a positive/negative result.

With additional testing and post-season targeted culling, the number of new reports spiked for the 2021-22 hunting season. From the first discovery of CWD in a deer killed near Meert’s Tree Farm in 2016, through June of 2021, only nine deer had tested positive in the county. This fall and winter, 12 new infections were confirmed, all in south of Festus and east of De Soto.

Twelve additional locations in Jefferson County have been added to the map for positive CWD tests.

Between July 2021 and April 2022 the state Department of Conservation sampled more than 32,000 deer statewide and 86 tested positive for CWD. With 15 additional cases this year, Ste. Genevieve County had the highest total, followed by Jefferson and Linn counties with 12.

Ten new cases were also found this year in Macon County where the first free-ranging deer to test positive for the disease was discovered in 2011. Along with neighboring Linn County, it has been the hot-zone in the state, but when merging the totals with Franklin and Ste. Genevieve counties, things are more than just warm in Jefferson County.

The local trio is responsible for 101 of the 292 cases statewide. Linn and Macon counties account for 92 combined. Adair County in north central Missouri adds 24 cases to the overall total number of cases in that region since 2011.

Chronic wasting disease continues to show up in new locations each year. The results from the 2021-22 season found a first time positive test from Washington County near Blackwell, and new cases for Barry, Christian and Howell counties in southwest Missouri.

More than 18,700 of deer tested were sampled as part of mandatory submissions during the opening weekend of the November portion of the firearms deer season. Hunters who harvested deer in any of the 34 management zone counties during that weekend were required to present their deer for testing.

After the close of regular deer seasons in January, about 3,000 samples were collected from localized areas where CWD has been found. Landowners can voluntarily remove deer through the targeted culling program.

“These landowners are critical in slowing the spread of CWD by removing additional infected deer from the landscape and reducing deer numbers in targeted areas,” said Jasmine Batten wildlife health program supervisor for the conservation department. “All meat from deer that do not test positive for CWD is either returned to the landowner or donated to Share the Harvest.”

I did participate in the post-season targeted culling effort, but never added to the statistics. I couldn’t bring myself to spotlighting or night hunting techniques that are approved, and my feeble attempts at baiting attracted only squirrels and crows while I was hunting.

Batten also thanked the hunters, taxidermists, and meat processors who helped with sampling.

“We are very grateful to the thousands of deer hunters who brought in their deer for CWD sampling, along with the 109 taxidermists and 34 meat processors across the state who collected and submitted more than 9,000 CWD samples,” Batten said. “These important partners provide critical surveillance data, give hunters additional opportunities to have their deer tested, and ensure that meat from deer harvested in CWD Management Zone counties is tested before venison donations are sent to food pantries.”

A number that stands out in the final report from the state are the 6,000-plus tests that were conducted outside the management zones statewide. Those can be credited to the taxidermists and processors who make the free testing available in places CWD hasn’t been found. In the 80 counties outside the management zones, it is likely that deer have the disease. Voluntary testing, particularly for older bucks, should lead to more discoveries.

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.

Originally published by Leader Publications on May 5, 2022.

Published by John J. Winkelman

A freelance outdoor writer for more than 30 years

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