Chronic Wasting Disease numbers are on the rise, but are being controlled in the best possible manner through a combination of science, wildlife management, hunting, conservation and the partnership between the sportsman’s community and wildlife scientists who are working diligently to stay at the cutting edge of the fight against CWD.
Mississippi has had multiple positive CWD cases in six counties: Marshall, Benton, Panola, Pontotoc, Issaquena and Tallahatchie. Prior to May 14th, the Wildlife Bureau had created two CWD Management Zones that covered 19 counties including and near those with positive tests confirmed. The bureau agents tell us they are behind in testing this year. CWD is insidious. It attacks the brain and nervous system of deer and is always fatal. Once CWD hits an area, it's impossible to eliminate because it can build up in the soil, grass, & leaves and cannot be eradicated.
During the May 2020 meeting, the Commission on Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks requested that MDWFP staff shrink the current CWD Management Zones from 25-miles to within ten miles of locations where positive CWS cases have been found. In their place, they would create two new CWD “Surveillance Zones” with new 25-mile zones.
The Commission asked that supplemental feeding, known as “baiting” be allowed year-round in those new CWD Surveillance zones, while the ban on carcass transportation within those zones would remain in place. Essentially, this action allows baiting within the former CWD Management Zones, some within ten miles of positive CWD cases. It should be noted that Commissioner personally owning property in a management zone that falls within one of the former Management Zones that was rezoned into a Surveillance Zone.
MDWFP wildlife biologists strongly recommended AGAINST such action and changes, noting that when the Agency catches up on testing, it is an almost certainty that new cases will be found in a larger geographic area than previously found.
Despite the biologists’ warning, at the May 14 the meeting, the Commissioners voted to shrink the CWD Zones and adopt the new Surveillance Zones.
The MS Wildlife Federation was immediately alerted by concerned scientists and hunters across Mississippi and all of the surrounding states. MWF sent a letter to the Commission asking that it reconsider its action, provide the public with notice and allow a public hearing on the changes. We received a letter from MDWFP weeks later, stating that they had taken the action in May due to COVID, and that the changes would not be considered as a proposed rule instead of immediate action.
The agenda was then released for the June Commission meeting - with the changes above indicated as a “Proposed Rule.” On June 17th, the Commission (per their request) heard an overview of the exact same changes summarized above, from Russ Walsh, Chief of MDWFP Wildlife Bureau. The proposed zones shrinkages and new surveillance zones can be viewed on the map here: https://www.mdwfp.com/wildlife-hunting/chronic-wasting-disease/cwd-management-zones/
The proposed rule change can be found at https://www.mdwfp.com/media/300604/40-miss-admin-code-part-2-rule-29-chronic-wasting-disease-zone-delineation-proposed.pdf.
Why does baiting increase the spread of CWD? As a leading deer scientist from Michigan explains: “[D]eer are social animals and they interact regardless of baiting. But when you put bait on the ground you are drawing in multiple social groups together. If not at the same time, over time because of the prions in the environment,‘ he said. “If one of the animals in a social group has (CWD) the likelihood of spreading it to a second or third social group is higher. That is the science behind (the ban).” Everyone living through the COVID global pandemic right now should be able to understand this phenomenon. Baiting is like the opposite of social distancing for deer! If you do that near areas where CWD has been located, with a disease that not only infects the species, but also the soil and environment where it can live for long periods of time, you’re creating a breeding ground for the disease.
ACTION NEEDED: We need YOU to tell the Commission to VOTE NO on changing the current Mississippi CWD Management Plan and CWD Management Zones.
Written comments should be made via the web portal on their website (and go straight to the wildlife biologists, who presents them to the commissioners), via https://www.mdwfp.com/administration/rules/ (the tab that says comment on proposed rules) by July 6th. Here are suggested comments:
I am a citizen of _______ County, Mississippi who cares about wildlife in Mississippi, and the health of our deer population both for the current generation of deer hunters, and for future generations of deer hunters. By shrinking the current CWD Management Zones to within 10 miles of positive CWD cases, you are jeopardizing the health of Mississippi deer, the populations of the states around us, and potentially other species. Science has shown that supplemental feeding is one of the leading causes of the spread of CWD, while hunting and thinning the population is one of the best methods for controlling the spread of the disease. Please listen to the leading scientific experts in this subject, and table this proposal for at least a year, until the wildlife agency can conduct further testing in Mississippi and do more research to determine the extent of our problem and how far the disease has spread geographically. Thank you for considering my comments.
If you are so inclined to make comments in person, a formal request to appear at the meeting on July 16th must be made by or before July 6th, in writing to the MDWFP office on Eastover–correspondence to Dr. Polles/Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks at 1505 Eastover Drive, Jackson, Mississippi 39211. Or you can show up to the meeting, and sign in to speak before the meeting begins, and if time permits, will be called upon. If the concerned hunters and conservationists of Mississippi unite on this issue, we can make a difference.