The Missouri Department of Conservation has reported numerous new cases of a deadly disease in deer just as its attempted regulations are being litigated.
The state agency says 15 free-ranging Missouri deer have tested positive for chronic wasting disease out of nearly 18,400 tests of the animals so far in the current season.
Chronic wasting disease is a deadly illness in white-tailed deer and other members of the deer family, such as elk. It kills all deer it infects and has no vaccination, treatment or cure.
The state’s Conservation Commission first detected chronic wasting disease at a private hunting preserve in 2010. After finding many more infected deer, it enacted regulations for importing and handling of the animals.
But it’s rules were successfully by six members of the deer hunting and breeding industry. A circuit court in mid Missouri’s Gasconade County determined in 2016 that the commission lacked the authority to enforce the regulations.
The Missouri Supreme Court will hear arguments in an appeal by the Conservation Commission Wednesday in Jefferson City.
Among the findings of the latest Conservation Department release was that a low number of chronic wasting disease cases in three new counties – Polk, Cedar and Ste. Genevieve – suggests the ailment was recently introduced to those areas.
The agency also noted that its practice of mandatory sampling is proving to be critical in finding new cases in new areas. It says additional testing and thinning of deer in the immediate areas where cases are found is helping to limit the spread of the disease.
Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sara Pauley credited hunters and landowners for their help in the sampling process that turned out 18,400 test results.
“We could not accomplish this very important work without the help of the many thousands of hunters and hundreds of landowners around Missouri who brought in their deer for CWD (chronic wasting disease) testing to help find and limit the spread of this terrible disease,” said Pauley.
Chronic wasting disease is known to exist in 24 states, two Canadian provinces, South Korea, and Norway.
It’s caused by proteins called prions and is passed directly through animal-to-animal contact, as well as indirectly when animals pick up prions that have been shed into the environment.
The Department of Conservation has projected that its chronic wasting disease-management expenditures for fiscal year 2017 will reach $1.7 million.
Before the state Supreme Court Wednesday, the Conservation Department will ask the court to reverse the lower court’s decision and allow it to impose four regulations on the deer hunting and breeding industry.
One rule would prohibit the inportation of deer and elk by big game hunting preserves in Missouri. The department contends that human transportation of the animals across state lines is the most commonly cited way chronic wasting disease is spread.
Another rule would require stronger fencing to prevent the deer and elk from escaping captive areas. The Conservation Department also wants to prohibit the possession of wildlife except as permitted under its regulations.
It further is seeking to impose a variety of recordkeeping and veterinary inspection requirements on confined wildlife permit holders.