Jon Kocan

Jon Kocan

Consideration of Chronic Wasting Disease control proposals brings with it consideration of safeguarding the state’s deer herd. Accountability from hunters will be the key to proposed changes.

In a recent news release, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation described 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.”

The state has proposed new regulations concerning the control of CWD and public input is open until March 8.

Part of the issue with CWD is how you view deer and other cervids. You could see them as a free-ranging herd that belongs to the people of Oklahoma and managed with the common good in mind. You could also view deer as a form of livestock, kept behind fences and subject to purchase and transport from buyers across state and international borders.

The disease has been confirmed in captive elk in Oklahoma, but never in the wild deer herd. Regardless of history, both deer hunters and deer farmers will be subject to increase scrutiny. This is needed to ensure that our population of wild deer remains free from exposure to CWD.

Deer farmers have had their share of regulations to follow. Importing animals from states or provinces that have had confirmed cases of CWD comes with strict testing and paperwork.

New regulations will bring a new focus on the deer, elk or moose hunters that transport harvested animals back to Oklahoma. Proposed legislation will outlaw the transport of any kind of neurologic or spinal tissue from a cervid across state lines.

Jonathan Gassett, former Commissioner for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and current Southeast Field Representative for the national Wildlife Management Institute was quoted in the ODWC release as stating, “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.

His thoughts essentially sum up the proposed regulations.

There is still little know about CWD, but according to the ODWC release, “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.”

I’d be willing to bet that if a hunter had the time and resources to elk, moose or deer hunt out of state, they could figure out a reasonable way to abide by these proposed regulations.

If you think of controlling CWD like controlling the spread of zebra mussels, this would be the equivalent of the clean, drain and dry effort to prevent boats from transporting the invasive species to new bodies of water.

While new regulations may seem to target hunters that travel out of state, they really target keeping our deer herd free from a disease that has no treatment or vaccine. It’s time for hunters to do their share to protect the tremendous resource that is the state’s deer herd.

Jon Kocan is the Stillwater News Press outdoors writer and a longtime hunter. He can be reached at jkocan@stwnewspress.com.