Special deer harvest underway to collect 200 more samples around Harpers Ferry area for CWD testing

The map above indicates the areas in Allamakee County around the Harpers Ferry area that are receiving increased attention following the positive testing of three more wild deer harvested during the 2014 shotgun deer hunting season in that particular area. The area outlined in red shows the 31 sections in Fairview and Taylor Townships that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is referring to as the Intensive Surveillance Zone. It is in this area they hope hunters issued special permits by the DNR will kill 200 additional deer during the next three weeks for further CWD testing. The light blue triangle on the map shows where the deer which first tested positive was harvested in 2013, and the other three dark blue triangles indicate where the three animals were harvested that tested positive from the 2014 season. Submitted image.

by Kelli Boylen
freelance writer

The majority of area landowners and hunters in attendance at two public meetings held in Allamakee County Tuesday, February 17 were overwhelmingly supportive of the plan presented by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to collect 200 more samples from Allamakee County deer in the next few weeks for the purpose of testing for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
At those meetings, attended by approximately 200 citizens at sites in Harpers Ferry and Waukon, the DNR asked for public input and explained its plan to better pinpoint the occurrence of CWD in the vicinity of where the four wild deer that have tested positive within the past year were harvested in Allamakee County.
At the Harpers Ferry meeting, it appeared that it was almost unanimous for moving forward to collect additional samples. At the Waukon meeting, a hand vote was agreed upon by the attendees and roughly 75 percent of the attendees wanted to move forward.
Friday, February 20, the DNR started issuing permits to harvest the deer in the designated 31 sections of Fairview and Taylor townships in Allamakee County, north, west and southwest of Harpers Ferry. The DNR issued about 200 collecting permits representing 29 collecting groups of people that first day, according to Terry Haindfield, Iowa DNR Wildlife Biologist. By Sunday evening, 259 hunters were issued 462 tags.
Haindfield said by Sunday evening, February 22, 29 deer had been reported as harvested, of which 27 were adults and two were fawns. “We are extremely pleased with the participation and the number of deer sampled just after the first weekend, especially for how brutally cold and windy Sunday was,” he said.
The special collection period will last through March 15, or until 200 samples have been collected.
About one-third of the CWD-focus area lies within Yellow River State Forest, but the goal is to take no more than 50 deer from that public land. The general public should be aware of the presence of this collecting activity if they plan to visit Yellow River Forest during the next couple weeks.
The first case of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in a wild Iowa deer was confirmed in Allamakee County in 2014. That wild deer was shot south of Harpers Ferry in Yellow River State Forest during the 2013 regular shotgun season.
Efforts were made to test upwards of 300 samples from the 2014 gun deer season from a defined surveillance area surrounding that initial CWD-positive location. Of the 309 deer tested (approximately 60 percent of the deer harvested from that area), an additional three deer tested positive. One was harvested from near the horse campground area in Yellow River State Forest, another harvested in the area of Whippoorwill and Collins Roads, and the third was shot near the end of Cahallan Road off of Old Junction Road. Of the four positive deer shot during the last two seasons, two were male and two female.
The additional 200 samples being harvested during this current collection process will provide a statistical validity for determining prevalence of the disease in the area and if it is localized. Dr. Dale Garner, chief of the wildlife bureau for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the additional data will be important in determining what may be the best course of action for slowing the spread of the disease.
“This is very much a surgical approach because the data that is most important to us right now is what we can collect in the immediate area where the deer testing positive for CWD were harvested,” said Garner.
In Southwest Wisconsin, CWD has continued to spread despite an eradication plan which was implemented in 2002, shortly after the disease was discovered there. More than 1,800 deer there have tested positive in the past 12 years.
While it is certainly discouraging that CWD continues to spread in Wisconsin, other states such as Illinois have taken actions that appear to at least slow the rate of spread of CWD, said Garner. In Minnesota and New York, no new cases of CWD have been reported after the initial surveillance. In Missouri, only one new case of CWD in wild deer has been found since 2012 when 12 deer tested positive.
Although the amount of testing in Iowa did significantly increase following the finding of CWD in 2002 in Wisconsin, no positive animals were found until 2013. The CWD-positive deer were near the Mississippi River, where deer from Wisconsin could easily move into Iowa. The single deer that tested positive in 2013 was tested genetically by Iowa State University, and while it is impossible to say for certain where it originated, micro satellite data indicate the deer is somewhat more likely to be of Wisconsin origin.
Garner said the effort to collect the additional samples is being done under a section of Iowa code that authorizes the DNR to issue special collection permits for scientific purposes. “This is not a recreational opportunity. This is a scientific operation, to get a handle on the (extent of the) disease”, stressed Garner. However, those involved are required to abide by other hunting regulations, such as wearing blaze orange and shooting restrictions. Bows, muzzleloaders, handguns and shotguns that are allowed during the regular deer seasons will be allowed in this collection effort. In addition, centerfire rifles that are .24 caliber or larger will be allowed.
“Right now, the four separate CWD positive detections we have in Allamakee County are like sparks. The additional data we collect in that very specific area will give us a better idea of whether these are, in fact, isolated sparks or if the prevalence is higher in that area,” said Garner. He also pointed out that the DNR’s goal is to manage the deer population for the long term, stating that the choices that are made concerning the deer population now will affect generations to come.
Haindfield says the DNR is being as selective as they can by allowing local landowners and residents, along with groups that normally hunt this area, to have preference of getting collecting permits before allowing permits for people from outside the area. “These local groups have gone out of their way to help manage the deer resource and we want to continue working with them on this effort. This also helps us in securing the safest collecting atmosphere for participants,” he said.
Those wanting to assist in this collection in the Intensive Surveillance Area may call 563-379-5725 to request an appointment for a permit or be put on the waiting list.
CWD is a neurological disease affecting primarily deer and elk. It is caused by an abnormal protein, called a prion, which attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to lose weight, display abnormal behavior and lose bodily functions. It is always fatal to the infected deer. The only reliable test for CWD requires testing of lymph nodes or brain material after the animal is dead.
Anyone who observes deer acting ill is asked to contact the DNR with as much information about the deer’s location as possible. Signs to watch for include excessive salivation, thirst and urination, loss of appetite, progressive weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head. Deer show clinical signs of the illness 16 to 36 months after exposure, and can spread prions through urine and feces prior to showing symptoms.
The public is also asked to continue to report road-killed deer in the targeted area near Yellow River State Forest throughout the year. To report ill or roadkill deer in the targeted area, contact Haindfield at 563-380-3422 or 563-546-7960.
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.
There is currently no evidence that humans contract CWD by eating venison. It is recommended that hunters not eat the brain, eyeballs or spinal cord of deer and that hunters wear protective gloves while field dressing game and boning out meat for consumption.
For more information about CWD search the Iowa DNR website.


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