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Missouri Department of Conservation releases latest chronic wasting disease numbers

 Map showing core areas of CWD prevalence in Southwest Missouri
used courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation
Map showing core areas of CWD prevalence in Southwest Missouri

The Missouri Department of Conservation has released its latest study of chronic wasting disease in Missouri’s deer population, also known as CWD. Over 37,000 deer were sampled in Missouri between July 2023 and April 2024. Of those, 162 tested positive for the fatal neurological prion disease. That's a 9% increase from numbers reported during the department’s 2022-23 study, though still less than 0.5% of the total deer sampled across the state. In regions of the state designated as “core areas,” the prevalence of infection was reported at 1.1%.

"We’ve been fighting it for over a decade,” explained Deb Hudman, Missouri's wildlife health program supervisor, “and we still have very low apparent prevalence when you look at states around us and compare.”

In Wisconsin for instance, the prevalence of CWD was last reported at over 10% in some areas. Hudman said Missouri’s approach has been aggressive. The state started surveillance for CWD in 2002. It was first detected in 2012.

Management in the State of Missouri means testing, containment and what the Department calls targeted removal.

"You are five times more likely to remove another positive deer if it is taken within a mile of a previous positive detection,” Hudman said, “so we focus no more than two miles around these previous positive detections, and we call those our core areas, and that’s where we do targeted removal from January 16 through March 15.”

The department has also enlisted hunters and landowners. Hudman particularly encouraged those in areas where infection is present to carry out testing on harvested deer and work with MDC. In core areas, they offer additional deer permits and partial reimbursements on processing costs for deer submitted for testing.

Infected deer were found in eight new Missouri counties this year. CWD has been found in 39 counties since testing began. It has not been found in Missouri’s recently reintroduced elk population, though it can infect elk, mule deer and moose.

Vaccines are ineffective against prion diseases, but Hudman’s hope is the department can contain CWD as science catches up and develops, if not a cure, at least better testing and management techniques.

"It can be a little disheartening,” Hudman admitted, “when you’ve tried so hard and you see it pop up somewhere else. And this is more so, even with our own staff. It’s just a matter of, you know, trying to become as efficient as possible and keep folks motivated and let them know we’re still in this. We still have hope.”

The work continues to pay off. Missouri’s deer population remains mostly healthy, and last year, a record 326,035 deer were harvested during hunting season in the state.

MDC has designated core areas of concern in the Springfield area: in Christian, Taney and Dallas Counties. Find information about CWD management permits, core areas and more by contacting your local Missouri Department of Conservation office and at this link.

Copyright 2024 KSMU. To see more, visit KSMU.

Chris Drew
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