BONFIELD, Ill. — ‘‘Environmental contamination’’ struck me most at the chronic wasting disease meetingTuesdayat the Illinois State Rifle Association Shooting Range.
That, and how few people showed up. Considering the complaining and rumor-mongering I’ve read and listened to since CWD was found in Illinois, you would think hundreds would show up instead of a dozen.
CWD, an always-fatal neurological disease, first was documented in whitetail deer in Illinois in 2002 near Roscoe. In the 15 years since, it has spread across northern counties, 17 so far: Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Lake, Carroll, Ogle, DeKalb, Kane, DuPage, LaSalle, Kendall, Grundy, Will, Livingston and Kankakee.
For several years, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has held meetings about CWD around northern Illinois.
Wildlife-disease program manager Doug Dufford, assistant Ben Funk and district wildlife biologist Bob Massey led the meeting at the ISRA.
‘‘I am going to stay until you’re sick of seeing me or I’ve answered all the questions,’’ said Dufford, who was good to his word for two hours.
‘‘Every deer that gets this is going to die, but there is some hope on the vaccination side.’’
That’s why ‘‘environmental contamination’’ is so important. CWD proteins (prions) don’t break down for at least five years in the soil, so a primary aim in Illinois is to keep the percentage of infected deer as low as possible. Then, if a cure or vaccine is found, soil and flora won’t be packed with prions.
‘‘If you do nothing, prevalence rates will increase dramatically,’’ Dufford said.
That shows in Wisconsin, which has alaissez faireapproach and areas with nearly 50 percent of adult males with CWD. Illinois has had a slow climb in infected areas, but it is in the 1 percent range.
CWD spreads primarily along riparian corridors. The newest hot spots show it near the Kankakee River from Channahon-Coal City to Braidwood-Wilmington to Bonfield-Kankakee.
The IDNR is aggressive in its approach on two fronts: surveillance and management.
Firearm hunters in affected counties are aware of the surveillance because they must check in deer during the seven days of firearm seasons. They voluntarily can allow IDNR staff to test their deer. From what I saw in several years of opening-day monitoring, most hunters allow testing. In most cases, only those with a trophy buck who want to do a full mount hesitated. Dufford said they will work with taxidermists to test the trophy after it is caped out.
About 8,000 deer a year are tested, mostly from check stations. There were 75 positives in 14 counties last year, including a new positive in Carroll County.
The key part of management is lowering deer density. To put that plainly, it means killing more deer through hunter harvest and/or culling by sharpshooters. Lower density lowers interaction of deer, environmental contamination and deer moving to other areas.
Sharpshooters are controversial, leading to such bizarre rumors as the IDNR slaughtering deer and dumping them.
What they do is test all culled deer. CWD deer are incinerated. Other deer are processed and given to the Northern Illinois Food Bank Network (about a half-million pounds so far).
The IDNR has CWD data and information packed at dnr.illinois.gov/programs/CWD/Pages/default.aspx.
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