Can CWD In Deer Be Controlled, Or Is It Here To Stay?

Ever since chronic wasting disease was discovered four decades ago, biologists and hunters have wondered if it can be eradicated, controlled or if it’s here to stay with further expansion in the United States.

By Alan Clemons, Managing Editor


CWD is fatal in deer and has been detected in wild and captive whitetails in more than two dozen states and Canadian provinces.

Here in the Southeast we haven’t had CWD pop up in the white-tailed deer population. It was discovered earlier this year in mule deer in extreme west Texas, sending the state’s wildlife agency and agricultural department into high gear. They had a plan in place and didn’t waste time getting out the news. Hunting’s such a big business there, for wild and pen-raised animals among breeding farms, not to mention the exotics, that officials no doubt knew it was only a matter of time.

That’s pretty much my view of the rest of the Southeast. It’s only a matter of time. Between high fence operations, private high fences, breeders, legal and illegal importation of deer (and other animals), and hunters bringing back heads or carcasses from states with CWD, I have no doubt whatsoever that one day we’ll have CWD in the Southeast.

Can it be controlled? It hasn’t been, yet. Can it be eliminated? Doubtful, although I’d never rule out anything. I’m certain we have scads of intelligent biologists and researchers doing what they can to figure out something. State and federal agencies have not ignored CWD.

For now, we have to live with CWD and its threat in the Southeast. Most of the states with CWD are in the Midwest and Northeast. Canadian officials also are dealing with CWD, and in this report by The Canadian Press the question is whether its spread can be stopped.

“We have to realize that we may not be able to eradicate this disease currently from Canada, given that we don’t have any effective tools, so we may be looking at switching from eradication to control,” Penny Greenwood, national manager of domestic disease control for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said in the report.

“We feel that the current program that we have had in place for chronic wasting disease … is not effective in achieving its goals,” she added.

After eight years they’ve shifted from hopes for eradication to planning for control. For the Canada hunting and livestock industry, that’s probably the best option. Unless a researcher in the U.S. or Canada, or elsewhere, comes up with something that would eliminate CWD, it’s likely here to stay.

Southeastern state wildlife agencies, like others, test thousands of white-tailed deer each year. It’s a small sample of the overall number killed each year by hunters, but provides a statistical glimpse for biological data-gathering. I hope the Southeast never has a problem with CWD. I’m not naive enough to think that’s realistic, though.