JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – As Missouri hunters, landowners, and other conservationists know, the Show-Me State offers some of the best deer hunting in the country. Deer hunting is an important part of many Missourians’ lives and family traditions, including almost 520,000 deer hunters and almost two million wildlife watchers.
Deer hunting is also an important economic driver in Missouri. Deer hunting supports 12,000 Missouri jobs and gives a $1 billion annual boost to state and local economies. Many businesses around the state rely on deer hunting as a significant source of their annual revenue, such as meat processors, taxidermists, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, sporting goods stores, and others. Thousands of private landowners also manage their land for deer and rely on good deer hunting to maintain property values.
According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and current research, infectious diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) could hurt all of this.
“CWD has been found in captive deer and free-ranging deer in north-central Missouri,” explained MDC State Veterinarian Kelly Straka. “This neurological disease is currently limited to deer and other members of the deer family, called cervids. It has no vaccine or cure and is 100-percent fatal. Once it is well established in an area, CWD is impossible to eradicate. If left unchecked, it could significantly reduce deer numbers over time.”
Dr. Straka added that states with CWD must focus on limiting the spread of the disease and preventing its introduction to new areas, and that is exactly what MDC is doing.
Both free-ranging and captive white-tailed deer in Missouri are wildlife.
The Department of Conservation has been working with hunters, landowners, conservation partners, and businesses to detect cases of this infectious disease and limit its spread in free-ranging deer. MDC has also made regulation changes affecting free-ranging deer in the area where CWD has been found.
MDC is also working with the captive cervid industry, landowners, hunters, and others to address areas of concern related to captive deer and other captive cervids. There are 47 big-game hunting preserves and 253 wildlife breeders in the state that have captive deer and other captive cervids.
Missouri’s first cases of CWD were detected in 2010 and 2011 in captive deer at private big-game hunting preserves in Linn and Macon counties. A total of 11 cases of CWD have been confirmed in captive deer at the facilities. CWD has since been found in 10 free-ranging deer within two miles of the captive facility in Macon County.
Based on current scientific research, and Conservation Department management priorities, MDC has identified several areas of concern related to disease transmission and captive cervids. Those items include the separation of captive and free-ranging wildlife populations, movement of captive wildlife, disease testing, and herd certification.
“CWD is spread both directly from deer to deer and indirectly to deer from infected soil and other surfaces,” said Dr. Straka. “Current fencing standards for captive-cervid facilities do not prevent direct contact between captive and free-ranging deer.”
Current requirements for holding captive cervids at animal-auction facilities and exhibitions also do not prevent direct or indirect contact among different groups of captive deer.
According to MDC, importing captive deer into Missouri is currently allowed and can bring CWD and other diseases into the state. Of the 37 states that have captive-deer breeding and big-game hunting preserves, many have closed their borders to the importation of live deer. The Department added that some captive-cervid facilities in Missouri test all their deer that die for CWD, but not all are required to.
Over the next few months, MDC will go to Missouri deer hunters and other stakeholders with a goal of maintaining healthy wildlife populations across the state. As a result of information received, Wildlife Code changes may be suggested to the Conservation Commission for review.
MDC will host the following public meetings around the state to provide information on Missouri deer and CWD and to get comments about limiting the spread of the disease among captive and free-ranging deer. People can also post comments online at mdc.mo.gov/deerhealth.
For more information, go online to mdc.mo.gov and search Chronic Wasting Disease.