Each year, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) proposes changes in Title 800, the administrative rules that govern hunting, fishing and Wildlife Department operations. This year the agency is proposing adding language relating to the import, transport or possession of cervid carcasses and live cervids to help protect Oklahoma’s deer and elk populations from the threat of chronic wasting disease (CWD).
“Oklahoma deer hunters may have heard about chronic wasting disease afflicting deer and elk in other states. ODWC has been following the progress of CWD for decades and is making preparations in case the disease is detected in the state’s wild herd,” said Micah Holmes, Information Supervisor for ODWC.
CWD is a neurological disease that attacks the brains of deer, elk, moose and other members of the deer family, creating holes that resemble those in sponges. It is always fatal to the animal, and no treatment or vaccine against CWD exists. CWD has been confirmed in wild deer and elk in every state surrounding Oklahoma.
No case of CWD has ever been confirmed in a free-ranging wild deer or elk in Oklahoma. In 1998, CWD was confirmed in a captive elk herd in Oklahoma County that originally had been imported from Montana. The U.S. Department of Agriculture euthanized that herd to decrease the threat of the disease spreading into the surrounding free-ranging deer herd. Subsequent testing outside of the enclosure did not locate any positive animals.
“ODWC takes disease issues very seriously because of the potential effects to the state’s rich hunting traditions, the risk to natural resources, and the $680 million impact hunting has annually on the state’s economy,” Holmes said. “ODWC’s primary objective is to minimize the risk to Oklahoma’s wild deer, elk and other susceptible cervids within the state’s borders.”
ODWC is reviewing and updating its response plan in light of new scientific research and the disease’s closer proximity to the state. ODWC is also coordinating with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and other agencies to monitor the state’s captive cervid herds and provide information to the public as it becomes available.
Jonathan Gassett, former Commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and current Southeast Field Representative for the national Wildlife Management Institute, said the movement of hunter-harvested deer and elk carcasses creates the risk of introducing CWD into new areas.
“The most effective way to prevent CWD from spreading, while still providing out-of-state hunters reasonable accommodations for transporting their game back home, is to require them to transport only de-boned meat, and cleaned skulls, antlers, teeth, and hides that are completely free of any soft tissue,” he said.
“Wildlife Management Institute applauds the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in taking the first steps to curb the spread of CWD by restricting carcass movement to quartered meat. We hope that, in the future, they and other states will consider adopting a uniform standard of allowing only de-boned or processed meat and cleaned skulls, antlers, teeth, and hides so that native deer and elk herds will be protected.”
Jerry Shaw, Programs Supervisor with ODWC, said the Department has conducted CWD monitoring on hunter-harvested deer and road-killed deer and elk since 1999. “Since then, CWD has not been detected in laboratory testing of tissue samples from more than 10,000 wild deer and elk from throughout Oklahoma,” Shaw said.
ODWC continues to monitor and test for the presence of CWD. A total of 79 wild deer were sampled and tested for CWD in conjunction with herd health evaluations in 2017. CWD was not detected. Most recently, as part of the 2018 herd health evaluations, 42 samples were collected and were submitted to Colorado State University for testing. None of those samples tested positive for the disease. Testing is expected to continue into future years.
CWD was first detected in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967. It is a slow-progressing disease with a long time lag between infection and visible symptoms. Infected animals begin to lose weight, lose appetite and develop an insatiable thirst. They tend to separate from their herds, walk in repetitive patterns, stumble or tremble, carry their head low, salivate, urinate frequently, and grind their teeth.
The disease spreads when animals are in close contact but also when animals contact soil that contains prions (protein particles) from urine, feces, saliva or an infected animal’s carcass.
CWD transmission to people or livestock has not been documented. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, as a precaution, that people or animals do not eat any part of an animal diagnosed with or showing signs of CWD.
To read all of the proposed rule changes, go to the Wildlife Department’s website.
Anyone wishing to make comments on any of the proposed rule changes may do so in one of three ways:
Attend either public hearing at 7 p.m. March 7 at ODWC headquarters (1801 N. Lincoln, Oklahoma City) or at Kiamichi Technology Center (301 Kiamichi Drive, McAlester).
Comment online before 4:30 p.m. March 8 by using the online comment form at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MQ2H87B.
Mail written comments to the address below. Mailed comments must be postmarked by March 8, 2019.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
RE: Public Comment
P.O. Box 53465
Oklahoma City, OK 73152
All public comments are collected and reviewed by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission before the Commissioners consider proposed rule changes.