As hunters return to the woods and fields for the fall seasons, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is increasing its efforts to monitor the state for chronic wasting disease (CWD) at the same time.
Seventeen years ago, the department recognized an encroaching threat to Kentucky's deer and elk herds and took steps to prevent the spread of CWD to the state. Now, in 2019, the agency is calling on hunters to be the next line of defense.
Chronic wasting disease, the always-fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, moose and caribou, has spread to more than half of the states in the U.S. since its discovery in the late 1960s in Colorado.
It has never been detected in Kentucky but virtually surrounds it. Six of the seven bordering states have CWD.
"Our department has tested more than 30,000 deer and elk for CWD since 2002 and plan to increase our monitoring this fall," said Gabe Jenkins, deer and elk program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
"We cannot let our guards down, and we ask that people let us know what they're seeing across the state."
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) understand the potential threat CWD presents and are partnering with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
"Although there currently is no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to people, we recommend that human exposure to animals infected by CWD be avoided as we continue to evaluate any potential health risk," said Dr. Angela Dearinger, Commissioner at the Kentucky Department for Public Health.
The movement of deer is a primary reason for the rapid spread of CWD. An infected deer or elk can transmit the disease whether it is alive or dead.
Because of this risk, Kentucky has made it illegal to bring whole carcasses of deer, elk, moose and caribou into the state.
Motorists who see a carcass being transported across the state line into Kentucky should report the sighting immediately by calling 1-800-25-ALERT (1-800-252-5378).
Likewise, a deer or elk with a livestock tag on its ear could be escaped from a captive facility and should be reported to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Kentucky's deer and elk herds are the result of many years' of effort and vital to the state's economy, contributing an estimated $550 million each year.
"Chronic wasting disease threatens what we've all worked so hard to establish with the deer and elk herds," Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm said. "Our agency does not take it lightly, and neither should sportsmen and sportswomen. It's an issue of importance to everyone. We want future generations to enjoy what we have right now."
Another way hunters can help this fall is to alert Kentucky Fish and Wildlife of any sick deer or elk.
This can be done by calling 1-800-858-1549 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Emailed reports should include your name, phone number and county where the sick deer or elk was observed.
Officials with the departments for Public Health and Fish and Wildlife Resources also advise hunters to take the following precautions when handling deer and elk:
Wear latex or rubber gloves to minimize exposure.
Bone out all meat and avoid severing bones.
Minimize handling of brain, tonsils, spinal cord and lymph glands.
Thoroughly wash hands and sanitize all tools used.
Process deer individually and add no meat from other animals.
Do not split the backbone.
Contact Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to report sick deer or elk (1-800-858-1549)
Learn more about CWD and the state's response plan should it be detected in Kentucky online at fw.ky.gov/cwd.
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