Proposed hunting regulations aimed at preventing spread of fatal deer disease
Trying to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, state wildlife officials are proposing a regulation that would prohibit out-of-state hunters from bringing whole carcasses of a deer, elk or moose into Oklahoma.
Another proposed regulation would give the director of the Wildlife Department the power to implement steps to try to prevent the spread of CWD, if it is ever detected in Oklahoma.
CWD is a fatal, neurological illness that occurs in North American cervids (members of the deer family). Since its discovery in 1967, CWD has spread to 26 states and two Canadian provinces.
It is transmitted freely among deer and elk, and there is no known cure. CWD is transmitted directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly through contact with objects (including carcasses) or environment contaminated with the infection. It is not known to infect livestock or humans. The disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk and causes animals to become emaciated and die.
The Wildlife Department has been testing for CWD for almost two decades and has never detected the disease in Oklahoma’s free-ranging deer or elk herds. But it has been found in wild deer and elk in every state surrounding Oklahoma.
In 1998, CWD was confirmed in a captive elk herd in Oklahoma County that had been imported from Montana. The animals were euthanized to prevent any spread of CWD.
Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Wildlife Department, says the new rules being proposed by the agency is an attempt to minimize the risk of deer and elk in Oklahoma getting infected with CWD.
“Every year, it is found in more and more states,” Holmes said. “For us to think we are not going to find a case, that may be wishful thinking. We certainly hope that is the case. All we can do is monitor and test for the presence of it. That’s what we are doing year after year.
“We do think there are some steps we can take to minimize its impact. We think this is a step in the right direction.”
Holmes said the new proposed regulation only applies to out-of-state hunters. It is similar to hunting regulations already imposed by wildlife agencies in other states, he said.
The Wildlife Department recognizes the new rule, if it passes, would be an inconvenience for Oklahomans who might hunt in a neighboring state but live close to the border, he said.
It might be easier for those hunters to bring a whole carcass across state lines to their homes to clean it, but it is not worth the risk of a possible CWD outbreak, Holmes said.
Under the proposed rule, out-of-state hunters could only bring into Oklahoma the following from a cervid carcass:
• Antlers or antlers attached to clean skull plate or cleaned skulls (all tissue removed).
• Animal quarters containing no spinal materials, or meat with all parts of the spinal column removed.
• Cleaned teeth.
• Finished taxidermy products.
• Hides or tanned products.
Holmes said the Wildlife Department has been working with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry along with commercial hunting operations on a response plan if CWD is ever detected.
Another proposed regulation, if it passes, would give the director of the Wildlife Department the authority to respond to the threat of a CWD outbreak, Holmes said. Implementing a management zone where CWD was detected would be one possible course of action, he said.
“There has been some misunderstanding that these things are going to kick in automatically, but that is not the case,” he said.
The public comment period on the new hunting and fishing regulations being proposed by the Wildlife Department is open until March 8. The public can comment online at www.wildlifedepartment.com.
Two public hearings on the proposals will be held March 7, one in Oklahoma City at the Wildlife Department’s headquarters, 1801 N Lincoln Blvd., and the other in McAlester at the Kiamichi Technology Center. Both will begin at 7 p.m.