Area hunters work well with Iowa DNR during more concentrated CWD testing efforts


Terry Haindfield, Wildlife Biologist with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), makes the necessary cuts to the head of a harvested buck to get to the brain stem for one of the needed tissue samples taken for testing for Chronic Wasting Disease. Mike Siepker, a fish biologist with the DNR who was assisting with the sampling, is pictured in the background. Photo by Kelli Boylen.

by Kelli Boylen freelance writer

 

“The hunters have just been tremendous to work with,” says Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Biologist Terry Haindfield in regard to his current efforts to test for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) this deer hunting season.

Haindfield is among the many members of the DNR collecting samples from deer during the current gun-deer season to test for CWD at a more concentrated level this year. Within the first week or so of the season, DNR officials were already nearing their goals for the number of deer to be tested.

The first known case of CWD in a wild deer in the state of Iowa came from an animal that was shot south of Harpers Ferry in Yellow River State Forest during the 2013 regular gun season. It is hoped that the infected deer crossed the Mississippi River from Wisconsin shortly before it was shot and other deer were not infected.

In light of that development last season, the Iowa DNR asked for the assistance of landowners and hunters in dealing with what they are still hoping is an isolated case of CWD, and Haindfield is among those who are very pleased at their response.

At any given time early in the season about 14 DNR officials, mostly wildlife biologists and technicians, were out asking hunters if they could collect samples from their deer.

The CWD-positive deer harvested last year was the first in more than 51,000 samples from non-captive deer tested statewide since 2002, of which more than 4,200 came from Allamakee County.

This year the DNR's goal was to obtain samples from 300 deer taken in the targeted area in Allamakee County, roughly outlined by Waterville Road, Elon Drive to Lafayette Ridge Drive, and the Harpers Ferry blacktop to Highway 76 near Effigy Mounds.

In previous years, test results took several months to come back. This year it should only take a few weeks for samples from Clayton and Allamakee counties as they are being given a high priority.

Since the DNR learned of the CWD-positive deer last April, 34 roadkill deer have also been sampled in Allamakee County (mostly in the targeted area), along with a combination of 25 samples taken from youth season, bow season and early muzzleloader season. All of those samples have come back with a “not detected” report for CWD.

If there are no further cases found in the next three years, the DNR will continue to test deer as they have in the past. If more cases are found, they will work with the public to decide how to proceed from that point.

Hunters need to give the DNR permission to take samples from their deer. Haindfield was optimistic about hunters being willing to help out since they have been so willing to do so in the past, but he said this year things were going even better than he expected.

 

THE TESTING PROCESS

CWD is not caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus, but rather a prion (an infectious misshapen protein). It is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (commonly called Mad Cow Disease) and can be found in whitetails, moose, elk and mule deer. There is no vaccination for CWD and there is no treatment. It is always fatal to the infected deer.

Haindfield and others doing the sampling take two tissue samples from the brain stem and also take out two lymph nodes from under the jaw. One tissue sample and one node are placed in a solution to be preserved for transportation to a laboratory in Ames for initial testing. The others are frozen to be used for further testing if the first samples show positive results.

It takes a few minutes to get the samples from each deer, and Haindfield and others try to work as efficiently as possible as to not slow down the hunters.

Hunters will not be notified of the CWD test results unless the animal they shot is positive. “No news is good news,” said Haindfield. If all the tested deer in the county come back with a "not detected" report, the DNR will issue a news release stating that fact.

 

NO KNOWN DANGER TO HUMANS

Although the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends not eating deer that have tested positive, there is no known transmission of CWD to humans. Hunters and others who consume venison in Colorado and Wyoming, where there are more known cases of CWD than anywhere in the country, do not have a higher incidence of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (a rare, similar neurodegenerative disease in humans) than anywhere else.

The testing the DNR is doing should not be considered a food safety test, but rather is being done as a check of the health of the deer herd. “At this time, it is believed people cannot contract CWD, we just want to know if it has spread in the herd,” Haindfield said. “It’s the sampling that will really help us to understand what is going on.”

If a deer tests positive, the DNR offers the choice to the hunter if they want to consume the meat or if they would like the DNR to dispose of it for them. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend that hunters do not eat the brain, eyeballs or spinal cord of deer, and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game. It is also recommended that people avoid eating meat from a deer that has tested positive.

Haindfield says the best recommendation for deer carcass disposal, especially in the targeted area, would be to bury the unusable remains.  Recognizing that can be difficult in the winter, sending the remains to a landfill would be the next best option. If nothing else, try to put the carcass in an area where the remains will not be scattered.

Also, hunters cannot transport into Iowa the whole carcass of any cervid (i.e., deer, elk, moose or caribou) taken from a CWD endemic area within any state. Only the boned-out meat, the cape and antlers attached to a clean skull plate from which all brain tissue has been removed are legal to transport into Iowa.

 

MAKING IT POSSIBLE, AND EFFECTIVE

In addition to a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, financing for this testing effort comes out of hunting license revenue, which takes personnel and habitat dollars away from managing Iowa wildlife. “The priority just gets shifted in the existing wildlife budget,” he said.

CWD sample collection does take away from Wildlife Bureau employees' normal duties, along with other DNR personnel who do not normally work with this area, such as fisheries biologists and technicians, who help out with testing too.

Haindfield, for one, really enjoys meeting with hunters, even if the reason for talking with them is CWD. He said sometimes hunters are reserved at first, but once they learn he is a wildlife biologist they often start asking questions about the age of deer or other questions, and often report sightings of other wildlife such as weasels, ruffed grouse or bears.

The Northeast Iowa Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited (WTU) has partnered with National WTU to provide hats to many hunters in Allamakee County who provided samples in the targeted area. WTU supports the surveillance by the DNR to monitor the deer population and wants the deer herd to be disease free as well.

Oftentimes hunting parties work with the DNR to make sure all the deer their group shoots in an area are tested, and Haindfield said many are happy to see them return year after year. “I love wildlife, biology, habitat and interaction with hunters. I’ve been doing this for 31 years and still enjoy it. This is what I went to college for,” Haindfield said.

As a wildlife biologist, Haindfield helps to manage more than 23,000 acres of public land in six northeastern Iowa counties, doing work such as surveying wildlife populations and management of forest, prairies, wetlands and food plots.

Anyone who observes deer acting ill is asked to contact the DNR with as much information about the deer’s location as possible.  Symptoms of CWD infection include dementia, lack of coordination, abnormal behavior and excessive salivation. Infected deer are often emaciated, or thin-looking. Deer show clinical signs of the illness within 16 to 36 months of exposure, and can spread prions through urine and feces prior to showing symptoms. The public is also encouraged to continue to report road-killed deer in the targeted area near Yellow River State Forest throughout the year.

Everyone is asked to refrain from feeding or placing mineral blocks for deer in the targeted area. The risk of spreading any disease is greater when animals are concentrated in a small area.

For more information about CWD, search the Iowa DNR website. Questions for Terry Haindfield can be directed to him at 563-380-3422 or 563-546-7960.

 
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