The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife received good news when recent test results showed no trace of Chronic Wasting Disease in hundreds of whitetail deer killed during the 2011 hunting season.
CWD is a fatal disease that causes irreversible damage to the brain tissue of infected animals and is known to occur in deer, moose and elk, and other cervids such as red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and caribou are also susceptible.
Since 1999, the DIF&W has monitored and tested for the presence of CWD in more than 8,100 deer and several moose, all which have tested negative.
This year, the department tested 702 whitetail deer as well as one moose that was euthanized by the Maine Warden Service.
“Keeping CWD out of Maine is critical to the health and productivity of our deer and moose populations,” said Lee Kantar, a deer and moose biologist at DIF&W. “There is still no presence of CWD in Maine and we have to remain vigilant to make sure it stays that way.”
CWD is one of a group of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, which also include scrapie in sheep, mad cow disease in cattle, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.
The disease has been found in many states and provinces and has occurred as closely as New York State and West Virginia and was found for the first time this year in deer from Texas and Iowa.
If CWD emerges in Maine, it could seriously reduce infected deer populations by lowering adult survival and destabilizing populations.
Monitoring and controlling CWD is extremely costly. The common practice once CWD is discovered is to reduce deer densities in the infected area to as low a density as possible.
“This action is of course necessary to prevent the spread of the disease, but at the same time wasteful of a great wildlife resource,” Kantar said. “Such an action would not only affect the deer, but the people who enjoy seeing and hunting deer, and the livelihoods of the merchants, guides, and camp owners who cater to outdoor enthusiasts.”
The most likely route that CWD would enter the state would be from deer or other cervids that were shot in jurisdictions infected with CWD and brought back either whole or improperly dressed-out into Maine.
In 2011, six whole whitetail deer carcasses killed in New York, New Jersey and Virginia were illegally brought into Maine, but fortunately tested negative for the disease.
To continue to protect Maine from CWD, sportsmen and women are reminded that it is illegal for hunters who hunt or kill a deer, elk, moose or caribou in another state or province to transport any carcass parts that pose a risk of containing CWD prions back into Maine, with the exception of New Hampshire, Quebec, New Brunswick or Newfoundland.
Hunters may return to Maine only with bone-out meat, hardened antlers with or without skull caps, hides without the head portion and finished taxidermy mounts. If still attached, skull caps must be cleaned and free of brain and other tissues.
It is legal for individuals to transport cervid carcasses or parts through Maine if they are destined for other states, provinces and countries. Transportation is to occur without undue delay and must use the most reasonably direct route through Maine to the final destination. Cervid carcasses or parts must be transported in a manner that is both leakproof and that prevents their exposure to the environment.
If planning to hunt deer, moose, elk or caribou in a state or province known or suspected to harbor CWD there are some common sense precautions to take to avoid handling, transporting or consuming potentially CWD-infected specimens. To view these precautions, visit www.mefishwildlife.com.