Every autumn many hundred, probably several thousand, Arkansans go out West to hunt. They seek elk, mule deer, pronghorn antelopes and white-tailed deer.
They will have to alter their game plans this season, at least the ones who are successful in getting an animal and bringing it back to Arkansas.
The ugly specter of CWD, that’s chronic wasting disease, has resulted in a ban on bringing into Arkansas any deer family carcass. For several years now, importing deer family carcasses from specified states has been illegal. Beginning this fall, the ban is absolute – no deer family carcasses from any other state can be brought in.
The key word here is carcass. That means whole or quartered, and it includes heads.
But there is a silver lining to this cloud. Meat can be brought back to Arkansas if it is deboned. Heads that are cleaned can be brought in for mounting.
Chronic wasting disease is deadly to cervids, the technical name for deer family members. There is no known cure. But it has not been found in Arkansas. Wildlife managers and concerned hunters want to keep it that way. CWD does not affect humans.
The federal Centers for Disease Control suggest, "Hunters who harvest deer or elk from known CWD-positive areas may wish to consider having the animal tested for CWD before consuming the meat (information about testing is available from most state wildlife agencies). Persons involved in field-dressing carcasses should wear gloves, bone out the meat from the animal and minimize handling of the brain and spinal cord tissues."
In the past, an Arkansan who killed an elk or other deer family animal out West often would load it in a truck, throw a tarp over it and hightail it home. The hunter and companions may quarter the animal, pack it into ice chests and drive back.
With the new prohibition, the plan now has to be to cut meat off bones in the field or to take the animal to an area processor for this work. Then the boneless meat can be brought to Arkansas. So can the cleaned heads and the cleaned hides.
CWD can affect the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleen of deer family animals.
CWD was first diagnosed among free-ranging deer and elk in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. In recent years, CWD has been found in 15 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces and is likely to continue to grow, according to the CDC.
Records show the CWD rate in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming to be about 5 percent in mule deer, 2 percent in white-tailed deer and less than 1 percent in elk.
According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, CWD is a neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in cervids and is always fatal. CWD is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie in sheep. The disease belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or prion diseases. Prions are abnormally shaped proteins that are not destroyed by cooking. Prions generally accumulate in the brain, eyes, spinal cord, lymph nodes, tonsils, and spleen of infected animals.
Scientists do not completely understand how CWD is spread, although research indicates the agent responsible for the disease may be spread directly through animal-to-animal contact or indirectly through the soil or other surface-to-animal contact.
Scary? Unpleasant to think about? Yes. But we don’t have it in Arkansas, and hunters going out West can make adjustments and still enjoy their autumn outings.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.