LINCOLN -- Nebraska Game and Parks Commission biologists harvested 42 deer in the southern Panhandle this as part of a plan to monitor and control the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) through herd reduction and testing.
The deer were harvested Monday and Tuesday in parts of Kimball, Cheyenne, Deuel and Keith counties south of Highway 30. About 30 biologists used various methods to collect the deer, including a spotlight to target deer at night and an airplane.
Biologists plan to take additional deer in the coming months in those four counties and in northwestern Perkins County until more than 100 have been harvested. Many deer that might be in the region during other times of the year are wintering nearby in Colorado.
All deer were taken to the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center’s veterinary lab in Scottsbluff, where they were examined for overall health and tested for various diseases by five veterinarians from Nebraska and Colorado. Brain stems of the deer are being sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) veterinary lab in Ames, Iowa, for CWD testing. The results of those tests should be available later this month.
The public gave its support to the herd reduction plan at a public meeting in Kimball last month. All of the deer were taken from areas where landowners had granted biologists permission to do so. “The cooperation of landowners in this operation was wonderful,” said Rocky Hoffmann, a public information officer in the Commission’s North Platte office.
Experts believe herd reduction is the best way to control the spread of the CWD, which affects the nervous system of cervids such as mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk and is present in free-ranging deer and elk in parts of Colorado and Wyoming bordering Nebraska. Last November, a deer harvested by a hunter in southwestern Kimball county tested positive for CWD – the first time the disease was found in free- ranging animal in Nebraska.
Further herd reduction in the area will be accomplished through the issuance of 200 antlerless deer permits for this fall’s deer hunting season.
CWD is always fatal to infected animals and there is no test for live animals. Tests conducted on the deer taken this month will give biologists a better idea of how prevalent the disease is the region.
CWD was first identified in the late-1960s in captive deer and elk research herds in Colorado and Wyoming. In the wild, the disease was first reported in 1981 in Colorado and in 1986 in Wyoming. It has since been found in captive deer and elk herds in five western states and Saskatchewan, including seven captive elk on three ranches in Nebraska.
The Commission has tested more than 750 deer and elk for CWD since 1997. It plans to increase testing for the disease this fall in all counties adjacent to Colorado.
CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, a class of diseases that includes scrapie in sheep, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease. Although the possibility cannot be ruled out, researchers have found no evidence that CWD can be transferred to humans. They also believe it can not be transferred to domestic cattle.