Pandemic shuts down Chronic Wasting Disease testing in region

by Kate Evans

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Chronic Wasting Disease testing was cancelled this year in this district on the first two days of buck season due to concerns about potential COVID-19 transmission to hunters and DNR staff at sampling stations.

District 2 Division of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Rich Rogers said that sampling isn’t happening this year because of possible exposure of staff and hunters to the COVID-19 virus.  They see 100-150 interactions a day.

Chronic Wasting Disease testing wasn’t scheduled to occur in Morgan, Berkeley and Mineral Counties this year on the first two days of buck season as it did last year.  Instead, it was supposed to take place in Hardy County.

Hunters in Hardy County hadn’t been asked to bring their harvested deer in for Chronic Wasting Disease sampling since November, 2016.  The sampling would have provided new information about the prevalence and spread of the disease in Hardy County deer, Rogers said.  They hadn’t gotten enough samples in Hardy County in recent years and wanted to know how far south Chronic Wasting Disease had spread.

Rogers said that they don’t have enough manpower and resources to do sampling stations in all the Chronic Wasting Disease Containment Area counties at once.

In the future, the DNR will probably look at scheduling Chronic Wasting Disease sampling in more outlying containment area counties such as Berkeley, Hardy Grant and Mineral Counties.

“We owe it to hunters to let them know where it’s showing up,” Rogers said of the disease.

Morgan and Hampshire Counties are central counties in the Chronic Wasting Disease Containment Area.  They already know the disease is there and in the adjacent Maryland counties of Allegany and Washington counties and isn’t going away, Rogers said.

On-demand testing

The Division of Natural Resources is offering on-demand testing for hunters in the Chronic Wasting Disease Containment Area through the end of December, Rogers said.

Hunters can take the adult deer they harvested for sampling to the Division of Natural Resources District 2 Office in Romney (304- 822-3551) or the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area manager’s headquarters in Hedgesville. (304-754-4449)

Hunters are advised to call ahead to make sure that staff is available to get testing samples.  No call is needed during the first two days of buck season at their Romney office because staff is available, he said.

Rogers said they will call hunters with the positive or negative results for Chronic Wasting Disease.  They hope to have the results back within two weeks or so.  He noted that there are only so many labs that do the testing and every state is sending them samples.  Getting results back is really slow.

The testing only shows whether or not Chronic Wasting Disease is present in the tissue sample and is not a legal food safety sample, Rogers said.

Hunters are advised to not eat the meat of known infected animals or animals that appear to be ill.

Rogers said they also test deer road kill for Chronic Wasting Disease as well as sick or emaciated deer they pick up from calls from the public.  They have had some road kills in Hampshire County test positive for the disease but don’t usually get road kill from Morgan County.

Containment area, feeding ban

The West Virginia Chronic Wasting Disease containment area includes all of Morgan, Berkeley, Jefferson, Hampshire, Mineral, Grant and Hardy Counties.

Morgan, Berkeley, Hampshire,   Mineral and Hardy Counties have restrictions about the disposal and transport of deer carcasses along with feeding and baiting deer restrictions.  Grant and Jefferson Counties only have feeding and baiting restrictions.  These restrictions are designed to combat the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer, elk, and moose. Chronic Wasting Disease is caused by abnormal infectious proteins called prions. Prions can spread between deer through saliva, feces, urine, and through water or soil contaminated with prions.

As of May, 2020, Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in wild free-ranging deer or captive deer and/or elk populations in 26 states including West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland along with two Canadian provinces and Europe.

Some 403 white-tailed deer with Chronic Wasting Disease have been found so far in West Virginia.  As of May, 2020, Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in 363 deer in Hampshire County, six deer in Morgan County, 21 deer in Berkeley County, seven deer in Mineral County and six deer in Hardy County.

Deer disposal sites

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is providing disposal sites from November 23 through December 14 for deer carcasses harvested in Chronic Wasting Disease counties during buck firearms season.

Disposal sites are available in Morgan, Berkeley, Hampshire, Hardy and Mineral Counties with on-site dumpsters to be used exclusively for disposing of deer carcasses and deer parts.  Anyone disposing of household trash at these locations will be cited and fined.

Morgan County’s deer disposal location is at Ridge Hatchery at 12051 Valley Road in Berkeley Springs.

Hampshire County’s deer disposal locations are the DNR District 2 Office storage building parking lot off Route 28 in Romney, the Capon Bridge Volunteer Fire Department along Route 50 in Capon Bridge and the Springfield Volunteer Fire Department on Springfield Pike in Springfield.

Berkeley County’s deer disposal location is Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area headquarters at 1910 Sleepy Creek Road in Hedgesville.

For more information, contact the Division of Natural Resources District 2 Office at 304-822-3551. Tips for hunters

Contact the Division of Natural Resources if you kill or see a very sick or emaciated deer.

Don’t feed or bait deer.  It concentrates the deer in one place which can increase the spread of disease and introduce foreign contaminants into the herd.

Don’t use natural deer urine-based lures in the environment and avoid placing them on the ground or on vegetation that deer can reach.

Harvest adequate numbers of antlerless deer to keep the deer population in balance with the natural food supply.  This keeps the herd healthier and less likely to spread disease.