Back in 2005 a very dangerous and deadly disease was found in a private captive deer herd in Oneida. The deer were all destroyed and, in the surrounding area, a lot of wild deer were shot for testing over the next six years. None were found to be afflicted but Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) put a big scare into wildlife managers across the state.

In fact, a young buck spotted in a large, fenced-in private area just west of Medina during that time period looked like it could have the disease. There were a lot of wild deer in that enclosure (although not through the design of the landowner), so state Department of Environmental Conservation personnel shot 20 deer from that area and had them tested. None of the deer had CWD so the local scare was over.

Today, a sample testing of hunter-shot deer is performed each year by the DEC, statewide, and no other deer have shown up with CWD.

Cornell University's Animal Health Diagnostic Center provides testing, for a fee, for hunters who suspect the disease, but they should alert the DEC.

CWD is highly contagious among deer, elk and moose. It affects the brain and nervous system and causes a long, agonizing death (similar to mad cow disease). It is spread by saliva, urine and feces of infected animals and thus it can be spread by either animal-to-animal contact or contamination in the environment. It can also lay dormant in an animal for two years.

Typically, deer that have CWD lose weight progressively, they may not socialize with other deer, and they may have loss of awareness and fear of humans. They exhibit increased drinking and urination and excessive salivation alongside looking sickly.

There is no strong evidence for the occurrence of CWD in people, and it is not known whether people can be infected with it. Thus it is recommended that hunters use rubber gloves when processing deer, especially when handling body parts that can carry the disease including the brain, spinal cord, spleen, eyes, intestinal tract and lymph nodes. Then, hands and instruments should be sanitized after field dressing and processing.

In the end, animals infected with CWD act like zombies, drooling, stumbling and afflicted with tremors. There is no cure and it is a horrible death.

As of January 2021 there were 339 counties in 25 states with reported CWD in free ranging deer, elk and moose, but none in New York state.

So, as of now, New York has dodged the “bullet” but I fear that is over. In May, the state of Pennsylvania confirmed a positive case of CWD in a deer in a Warren County hunting preserve, near the southwestern corner of New York, only 5 miles from the New York-Pennsylvania border. Pennsylvania has experienced problems with CWD off and on, and its larger rural and forest tracts make it harder to control things. I fear it is only a matter of time before the disease turns up in New York again.

What can we do to help curtail this future problem? Well, for one, report to the DEC any deer you see with the above mentioned characteristics. The DEC will expand the prohibition on importation of certain parts and tissues of hunter-harvested, CWD-susceptible animals (deer, elk and moose) from outside New York state. Hunters will begin seeing restrictions on the use of deer urine-based attractants, as well as cancelation of injured-deer rehabilitation and transportation of deer taken by hunters.

Another thing that needs to be strongly enforced is the prohibition on the feeding of deer, because this is a high risk way of spreading the disease. Those people who now feed the deer to “help” them — which is illegal — will actually be contributing to the deaths of a lot of deer because feeding is one of the main ways of spreading CWD. That backyard deer they are feeding may look healthy, but you can't really tell by just looking because the deer may be in the early stages of the disease. And, remember, the disease can remain dormant for a couple of years.

The deer herd in our region really is too large right now, and that will be another factor in our dealing with CWD. A lot of private land is posted against hunting, which is a big factor in the size of the herd. I have seen more deer this year than ever before, and these deer learn quickly where they can't be hunted or where there are few hunters. Getting more land open so hunters can thin the herds will be a big factor in helping curtail this future problem.

The DEC will be providing extra deer permits to hunters and landowners, and these permits need to be used. We need to get the deer population down before this disease hits us, or down the road we may not have any deer.

Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or woodduck2020@yahoo.com .

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