As most of you know, I’ve been pretty vocal on certain IDNR deer management issues the last few years. Heading into the first of IDNR’s CWD public meetings in Livingston County Wednesday night, I didn’t want to have any preconceived notions about the IDNR approach with the disease that I know very little about.
Living in “southern IL” (South of I-80), we’re not dealing directly with the CWD issue that our Northern neighbors are. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the crowd in attendance. It was 100 mile drive for me and Lynn Wilcox (president of IL Bowhunters Society), but it was certainly worth attending. We learned a few things, and have a better understanding of IDNR’s goals in terms of CWD management.
Doug Dufford of IDNR made the presentation that was quite thorough. Like he states, it takes a while to lay out the issues and educate the audience, but he actually answered most of my questions before we even got to the Q&A portion.
Here’s some of the main points I picked up on during the meeting:
• IDNR needs help from hunters to obtain samples. If hunters don’t provide that assistance, then sharpshooting is needed. I know a lot of people hate the sharpshooting program, but are they helping to provide the samples IDNR needs to track the disease? One idea was to open archery season a few weeks earlier in CWD counties to get more samples from hunters, thus reducing the number of samples needed from sharpshooters. But bowhunters are typically the worst to provide samples. In one CWD county, IDNR has only obtained 3 samples from bowhunters over a 3-4 year period that the county has had CWD.
• Speaking of testing, it’s a good idea to have healthy-appearing deer tested in CWD areas. Visible symptoms may take more than a year to surface. Most deer die within weeks of having visible signs of infection. Just because your deer appears healthy, it can still have CWD prions in its system.
• Yes, the goal is to reduce the deer population in CWD areas. This is pretty basic, the fewer deer in an area, the fewer deer that can leave the prion behind to infect other deer. And the fewer deer in a given area, the less likely deer (specifically bucks) are to leave their home range to travel to new areas and infect more deer.
• Along with the goal of a smaller herd, is a target of a younger herd. The longer a deer lives, the better chance it stands of getting infected. So, mature deer are bad for CWD control. To keep CWD in check, the goal is to have a smaller, younger herd that turns over more often.
• It’s difficult to target specific sites with IDNR’s existing county-specific deer regulations. When a county’s first case is found, the goal is to target a 5 mile x 5 mile area around that site. Samples are needed to get a good feel for the infection rate in that area. Hunters alone, probably can’t get all of the samples needed within that small of an area, but they can put a dent in it. Bottom line, hunters need to be a part of the solution (herd reduction and sampling).
• The best IDNR can hope for right now is to “buy some time.” Biologists tried to remain optimistic about finding a solution for CWD in the future (some minor success has been seen in the development of a vaccine of sorts). Being proactive now seems to make for a better plan if/when something changes in the future. Compare that to WI that has upwards of 45% of its buck population that is infected with CWD.
• If left unchecked, infection rates can grow by 20% per year, and double every 4-5 years.
That’s some of the highlights from the meeting I attended. It’s not meant to be all-inclusive, but it’s some of the points that caught my interest. Keep in mind, Livingston County just had their first positive result, so they are early in the management process. And at this point, I’m an outsider looking in (or, up North). While it doesn’t impact me directly right now, I’m very interested in hearing what’s being done to prevent the spread of CWD another 100 miles south. Or worst yet… if it happens to make its way down-river to counties like Peoria, Pike, Adams, Brown, etc.
The meeting was attended by less than 20 people, and I don’t think hunters fully understand that their deer herd could someday be reduced by 40-70% to get infection rates under control. The average population reduction rate for the existing CWD counties is at 48% of the peak population. Simply put, the deer herd has essentially been cut in half… so far. Population indicators show that Boone County is down 71% from its peak.
A hunter observed that one “benefit” for locals is that they can now kill more than 2 bucks (bucks killed in CWD seasons are not subject to the antlered deer bag restrictions that apply to other seasons). I’m not sure a hunter in Boone County would see the same “benefit” of being able to shoot multiple bucks.
I would encourage hunters to attend one of the remaining meetings next week. I certainly have a different understanding of some of the issues now. I won’t swear that IL’s approach is the absolute best way to handle CWD, but the plan that was presented made sense to me.
If nothing else, it puts you in a spot to ask the tough questions to those directly involved with the CWD management plan. They’re making themselves available, so hunters should take advantage of it.
If you attend a meeting, post your comments here. I’m sure other meetings will be more emotional, as hunters have had more time to see the outcome of IDNR”s plan in their back yards. I’d like to hear what some of those public comments are, and how IDNR will answer them.