Editors Blog

Deer Hunters: Stop the CWD Hysteria — Please

Doe 2015 copyCan someone tell me why this “recent” hysteria over chronic wasting disease has been circling over us like a perpetual storm cloud? Enough already. These fears are ridiculous. Read one of the many repurposed news briefs out there and you’d think that we’re all going to fall over and die if we get our hands on a CWD-infected deer. We’re not. And I’m not the only one who believes that.

Researchers in Wyoming know more about CWD than anyone. They’ve been so kind to publish reams of facts on it, too. Either people are too lazy to read it; don’t know what they’re reading; or they’re way more paranoid than me (I am a paranoid soul, ask my wife).

Fact #1: Wyoming has had CWD for more than 40 years. I can state from first-hand experience (having hunted there many times) that their deer populations in the northeast corner (whitetail central and a CWD-endemic area) are higher than anywhere else on the planet. It is not uncommon to see 50, 100 even 200 deer in an alfalfa field during an early season hunt.

But I digress. More facts, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department:

Chronic wasting disease is not known to be a disease of humans. Because some humans in Europe contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a completely different disease) after presumably eating beef contaminated with BSE (mad cow disease) prion proteins, some feared that humans could also develop a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy after eating CWD-infected venison. Thus far, there is no evidence that this is likely. This is due to several lines of evidence, to wit:

1. The case rate for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in Wyoming and Colorado is less than the national average of one in 1 million, yet CWD has been in these states for > 40 years.

2. In laboratory studies, prion protein-induced conversions of the normal human protein is low (< 3%), demonstrating a barrier at the molecular level that limits human susceptibility to CWD.

3. Laboratory mice genetically modified to express the normal human protein do not get CWD, even when the prion protein is inoculated directly into the brain.

4. After several years, primates given the CWD prion protein have not developed any disease.

Nonetheless to avoid any risk of contracting any disease, parts or products from any animal that looks sick, or tests positive for CWD, should not be eaten.

Although CWD has existed for at least 40 years, we still do not know how the disease will ultimately impact deer and elk populations. Early mathematical modeling suggested that CWD could eliminate entire populations of deer or elk. Few scientists today believe that is likely. Rather, more recent models suggest that CWD will eventually decrease the population, sometimes substantially, but over time the population will rebound and stabilize, albeit at levels less than those prior to the disease’s arrival.

But it COULD infect us, right? Well, heck, yeah, I guess. So could a litany of other things, but we’re not running out and getting tested for those every day. The worriers can go ahead and worry, but enough already with the “this is in the best interest of the deer herd” tripe.

Some argue we should do something in the best interest of the deer. Reminds me of the school board meetings I used to cover in my newspaper days. Some Worry Wendy would stand up and shout, “The children! My God! Would someone, please, think about the children!”

Hey, I care equally about deer — and probably more so than most folks — but I’m just not seeing any real sensible plans by any game agency in America. None. This is not an indictment on the many smart and talented wildlife biologists out there (the ones who actually still have jobs and haven’t become puppets to govt officials). As a very good and close friend of mine said earlier today: “No one knows what the hell is going on.”

“It’s beyond ridiculous,” he continued. “CWD is bad, bad, bad. Don’t import. Eh, import it from here, but not there. Don’t eat the meat! Eh, no connection to humans eating the meat and getting sick, but YOU decide (fear mongering at its best). CWD is transmitted by … how? Prions? Something else? I dunno. Don’t use deer urine … that could, maybe, possibly transmit CWD prions! Kill all the deer in X area to get rid of the threat. Oh wait, that’s been proven not to be an answer either. In any event, we had better be safe than sorry!”

Oh, I hear my critics already. They’re circling the wagons to browbeat me for not insisting on every precaution possible for eliminating CWD on the landscape. They cluck their tongues when anyone questions the validity of baiting bans. “Ban baiting! It COULD cause CWD!” they cry. Well, if that’s the case, then start blaring the trumpets to ban food plots as well. Anyone with a lick of sense (don’t pardon the pun) knows that white-tailed deer are social animals and the mutual grooming behaviors in food plots over the course of a year far exceeds potential nose-to-nose encounters than 2 gallons of shelled corn sprinkled on the ground in November.

If we are truly concerned about reducing CWD, it’s quite easy:

1. Ban baiting.

2. Ban food plots.

3. Ban farming.

4. Eradicate all wild and captive cervids (deer, elk, moose).

5. Scorch the earth.

6. Reintroduce deer after, say, 5 years.

7. Guess what? They’ll get CWD again. It’s been proven. Google it.

Sorry if I come across as flip on this subject. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I’ve seen the same old, tired arguments being resurrected from state to state with nothing new added to the conversation. The final analysis: CWD is here whether we like it or not. And, until someone can show us all science-based proof that it poses more than a 1 in a million chance of morphing into a disease that is kinda, sorta like it, I’m not going to lose a minute of sleep worrying about it.