Wasting disease threatens deer pop.

By Tim Scordato

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources will continue monitoring the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in northern DeKalb County and surrounding areas.

The always-fatal disease affects the neural system of an animal and, over time, impairs the animal’s motor skills, survival instincts and appetite until the animal dies or starves to death.

The disease started showing up in the Illinois deer population about two or three years ago and then worked its way into Wisconsin, said Doug Dufford, a biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Before, the disease was only considered a threat in the western states along the Rocky Mountain range.

With the rise of the disease in Illinois, the IDNR is concerned the deer population will suffer.

“If the disease is allowed to run its course, it will eliminate the deer population in Illinois,” Dufford said.

Wildlife biologists and conservation police officers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and IDNR are using sharpshooting to eliminate the infected deer, Dufford said. Since there are no signs of CWD, the sharpshooters fire at any deer they see older than six months. No deer younger than six months old has the disease because the prions take a minimum of six months to build up in the deer’s system, Dufford said.

Hunters also play a role in the prevention of the disease.

The IDNR is allowing hunters to use unfilled tags from the first season of hunting to carry over to the second season. A tag grants the right to kill a deer depending on the gender and limits the hunter’s harvest.

This year, a special Chronic Wasting Disease tag can be purchased one at a time for $5.

Sophomore nursing major Adam Greiff said he bought two tags a season and kills at least one deer per year.

After a kill, Greiff takes certain precautions.

He never breaks or cuts the bones of the deer he shoots to stop the CWD prions found in the bone marrow from escaping. He is just as careful with the brain and spinal column.

After he is finished gutting the deer, he takes his deer to a check station, as mandated by law, where samples of the deer are taken for study. If the deer is found to have the disease the IDNR will properly dispose of it.

Aside from personal precautions, Greiff said he is concerned with the state’s involvement on the matter. He said without focused research on the matter, the disease will mutate and spread into dairy cattle or other livestock.

“The research has just been thrown to the back burner,” Greiff said.

However, Dufford said the state helped drop the infection rate by 25 to 30 percent through the use of and changes in surveillance, research, hunting laws and sharpshooting.

“There has been a significant improvement in the situation,” Duffer said.

The disease has only been found in cervids such as the mule deer, the Rocky Mountain elk and the local white-tailed deer, according to www.cwd-info.org,. However, there are other forms that are seen in sheep, cows and humans.

The disease is categorized as a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. “Mad Cow disease” and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which is found in humans, are other common forms of TSEs.