The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is moving quickly to do some more testing after Chronic Wasting Disease was discovered in samples from deer recently shot in the Harpers Ferry area of eastern Iowa.
Wildlife Management Biologist Terry Haindfield says this is the same area where there have been positive tests before, and this time around multiple deer came back positive.
“During our hunting seasons we collected 421 more samples in that Harpers Ferry area. We call it the ‘surveillance focus zone,’ where we were concentrating some additional effort to see what is going on out there,” Haindfield says. “And we did have nine (positive tests) at this time, with still a few samples to come back.”
The nine positive samples in the deer there more than doubled the six positive tests found in recent years. The increase in samples is just one of the things that raises concern for the DNR.
“We had three of them that are starting to move out away from the area a little bit,” Haindfield explains, “so that’s why we are looking for some additional collecting now to gather prevalence rate and distribution in those areas also.”
CWD can be spread easily among deer and causes them to get sick, and always results in death. This is the only area of the state where CWD has been found in wild deer. There’s been speculation that the infected deer could be coming into Iowa from Wisconsin.
“We’ll never know — but that’s a very likely scenario there. Deer do cross that river, and we do know that Wisconsin has it, so that’s a possibility, ” Haindfield says. “Especially one of these that is a little bit of an outlier. It’s real close to the Mississippi River — within a half a mile — and there’s a good chance it could have just crossed the river to start there.”
Haindfield says any positive tests have come from deer that were not taken by hunters, and here are not indications that the disease has caused major problems within the herd. “No, we haven’t come up with any that are showing any symptoms of Chronic Wasting Disease at this point. We do a lot of what we call target animals — those that look sickly or are acting suspiciously — but they come back with cases of pneumonia, got hit by a car, an injury from hunting, other things there and nothing has come back showing clinical signs,” according to Haindfield.
The DNR has lined up volunteers in the Harpers Ferry area to bring in some additional deer for more testing. “And our goals are two-fold here. One is to slow the spread. We acknowledge that we’re not going to probably eliminate the disease in this region. But we want to slow the spread so it doesn’t move across our Iowa landscape quickly,” Haindfield. says. “The second of our goals is to remove some of those positive animals in those localized sections where we are seeing a growing number of samples.”
Haindfield says they are also holding meetings to educate residents on how to keep the disease from spreading. He says one thing that will help is being sure hunters clean up after themselves when dressing a deer they’ve taken. He says they ask people who shoot deer in the area to clean up the remains and take them to a landfill instead of leaving them out where other deer may come in contact with them and be infected.
The DNR also asks them to not put out food that would concentrate the deer in an area. “We’re discouraging the use of mineral or salt licks or feeding on the ground of feed on the ground to be able to not direct animals into what we call a ‘soup bowl’ situation where everybody is eating out of the same location and transmitting the disease through saliva, feces or urine,” Haindfield says.
He says they hope to collect 250 to 300 more samples from mature deer from a specific area around Harpers Ferry to help better target the areas of concern. That effort is underway and will run through February 5th. Participants are required to have a scientific collectors permit and tags and must contact the DNR within 24 hours of collecting deer to arrange for CWD sample collection.