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August 2003
 
Back to Basics

by John Trussell

Chronic Wasting Disease Tests Are Negative On Georgia Deer

With the Georgia deer season just around the corner it is great to know that  the venison that you will harvest is safe from chronic wasting disease. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources began a five -year survey last fall in an attempt to determine if Georgia’s white-tailed deer herd may have been infected with Chronic Wasting Disease (commonly referred to as CWD). While DNR currently has no evidence that the disease has made it into our deer population, discoveries of the disease in Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin have proven that no state should consider itself immune. To survey the deer herd, DNR hoped to collect between several hundred samples of central nervous system tissue from hunter-harvested deer last fall. Samples were tested at a laboratory in Athens to determine if any of these animals show signs of infection. You should not be surprised if you aren’t familiar with CWD, it has only reached national prominence in the past year or so although researchers have know of the disease for about 30 years. The disease was previously known only in western states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming when last year it suddenly turned up in routine samples taken in Wisconsin. This alarming turn of events got national attention primarily for two reasons. Unlike the spread of West Nile Virus which is gradually being detected further and further west, CWD had t raveled a great distance from the endemic area (where it had been known to exist in a somewhat natural environment) with no warning signs. With no live tests, no vaccines, no cure and a disease that always kills animals that are infected, conservation agencies are concerned the disease could ravage deer populations in the eastern US. Further compounding the problem is that deer populations in the east may be worse suited to naturally survive the infection due to naturally higher deer densities (causing more rapid spread of disease from animal to animal) and more wooded habitats making sick deer harder to detect. CWD is one of a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or TSEs. These diseases can be given from one animal to the next and may not cause the death of these animals for several years. Similar diseases are known to occur in cattle (mad cow disease), sheep and humans. Within an infected animal the disease causes proteins to mutate and congregate in the brain of the animal. Holes form in the brain around these congregations causing animals to behave abnormally and ultimately die. The best protection for any deer herd is to prevent the animals from being exposed.

DNRs survey began last fall and included collection of hunter-harvested animals. Collections were limited to six of the areas in Georgia where the risk of introduction of CWD is considered highest. Sampling for the first year will include sites in Dawson, Harris, Peach, Marion, Oconee and Toombs Counties.  Collection areas were circular areas of a four-mile radius around facilities that have purchased and imported deer in the recent past. While the purchase of deer was legal for these facilities, the fact that these animals may have been purchased through sale barns or other locations where they were in contact with numerous other deer makes these facilities higher risk than those which have not acquired deer recently. DNR personnel will be contacting persons in and around these areas of interest with instructions on sample submittal for that area. DNR then processed the samples and submitted the samples to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study laboratory in Athens, Georgia for analysis.

Even though DNR is not expecting to find animals testing positive for CWD, Georgians will benefit from knowing that our deer are being sampled. If CWD is detected during the survey, Georgia will likely benefit from the proactive survey and can take steps to control the disease. DNR is asking Georgians to help protect against the disease by reporting any deer that exhibit signs of excessive salivation or urination, head tremors or emaciation to your local DNR office. Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts alike can also help by informing anyone who may consider illegally buying deer about the risks of CWD and its potential impact to Georgia.

Now the first results are in and Georgia is looking good! A total of 336 samples were collected under this program.  All samples have been tested. The results from these samples are all non-detection of CWD. This is certainly good news, but additional samples in future years remain to be tested in accordance with our targeted surveillance program.

Additionally, necropsy animals are also being continuously submitted to determine unexplained mortalities. Animals that were showing clinical signs similar to those reported for CWD (excessive salivation or urination, head tremors or emaciation) were also tested for CWD.  To date, all of these animals’ test results were also non-detect. Again, these findings are good news and we will continue testing suspect animals in future years. Now biologists are suggesting that supplemental feeding of deer will increase disease in deer. Reliable science provides support for a ban of baiting and feeding of white-tailed deer to reduce disease risks for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  Peer-reviewed research papers published in reputable scientific journals indicate the following:

CWD is transmitted laterally (live diseased deer infect other deer) · Deer can get CWD by ingesting something contaminated with the disease prion · CWD prions may be shed in feces and saliva · Disease course and symptoms indicate high potential for transmission where deer are concentrated Evidence from captive situations indicates that deer can get CWD from highly contaminated environments.

Baiting and Feeding causes unnatural concentration of deer Reduction of contact through a ban on baiting and feeding is likely very important to eradicating or containing a CWD outbreak.

Baiting and feeding continues to put Wisconsin’s deer herd at risk to other serious diseases In addition, experts in CWD, wildlife disease and deer nutrition support bans on baiting and feeding as part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent and/or manage CWD.

Under a baiting and feeding ban, disease outbreaks are more likely to be smaller in scale and more apt to be contained or eliminated. With the long CWD incubation period and other factors that make discovery of a new outbreak difficult, an outbreak that is already widespread when detected because of baiting and feeding may not be able to be contained or eliminated.  Gov. Sonny Perdue and House Speaker Coleman Break Ground for New Public Fishing Area Anglers’ high hopes for future fishing opportunities became closer to reality today as Governor Sonny Perdue, House Speaker Terry Coleman and Senator Ross Tolleson broke ground during a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the Ocmulgee Public Fishing Area (PFA) in Bleckley and Pulaski counties.  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) will construct and manage the proposed Ocmulgee PFA on the state-owned Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area.  Plans for the area include a main 106-acre lake, a separate three-acre kids fishing lake, a boat ramp, two fishing piers, an office, storage buildings, a pavilion/activity center and parking areas. 

“Fishing is big business in Georgia,” said Governor Sonny Perdue.  “This new fishing area will be a tremendous asset to Georgians around the state, especially citizens in nearby Bleckley and Pulaski counties.” “We are also pleased with WRD’s projections that the new fishing area could generate approximately $862,000 in economic activity each year,” added Governor Perdue.

Construction on the lake has just begun and filling of the main lake should take place through the spring of 2004.  Fish stocking will occur as the lake is filled and the population will develop for about a year in the absence of fishing.  If the project stays on schedule, the PFA should be open for fishing in the spring of 2006. The kids fishing lake will be opened as early as spring 2004 for special events.  The total cost for the proposed project including design, wetland mitigation and archeological studies is approximately $4.2 million. 

“I am very excited about the building of this facility,” said Coleman. “The most common reasons people do not fish and/or fish more often are related to an inadequate supply of safe, well-managed public fishing opportunities that are near to them.  This PFA will be within a one-hour drive of more than 100,000 anglers and 649,000 other citizens, many of who participate in some type of wildlife-related recreation.”

It is expected that the fishing success on this lake will be similar to the Dodge County PFA, which has been very popular with anglers and has even yielded a 15.5 pound largemouth bass.  Hundreds of school children will be introduced to fishing in the three-acre kids fishing pond, which will be heavily stocked with fish to ensure high catch rates for these young anglers. “Recent studies show that spending time with family and friends is one of the most important reasons people participate in fishing,” said Tolleson.  “At a time when parent/child family time has decreased significantly, participating in outdoor recreation is one way to strengthen the family as a unit and children as individuals.”

The main lake will have numerous coves and points, creek channels, standing timber and submerged humps for attracting fish. The deepest point at the dam will be about 30 feet. The lake will be intensively managed to provide the best possible fishing opportunities for both bank and boat anglers. Input from local anglers and information gathered at a public meeting have indicated that crappie and trophy largemouth bass angling will be the primary focus of the lake, with additional attention to bluegill, shellcrackers and channel catfish.  The area will be open from sunrise to sunset all year long. Anglers 16 years of age or older must possess a current Georgia fishing license and a Wildlife Management Area (WMA) stamp in order to fish. Anglers in possession of a one-day fishing license, Senior (65+) or Honorary license do not have to possess a WMA stamp.  Anglers may use up to two fishing poles and any size outboard motor may be used at idle speed.

For more information on the Ocmulgee PFA or other fishing opportunities in Georgia, visit the WRD website at www.gofishgeorgia.com or contact the WRD Fisheries Manage-ment Section at (478) 825-6151.


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