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By Phil McCausland
Doug Duren lives on a 115-hectare farm in Wisconsin, which has been part of his family for 115 years. It keeps more than 200 hectares for deer hunting.
It's a vast hunting ground – with about 75 white-tailed deer per square kilometer – and Duren, 60, remembers an environmental mantra when he manages it: "It's not ours, it's just our turn. "
This phrase is particularly important today for hunters like Duren, as a disease called Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) continues to spread through the deer population, which includes animals such as deer, elk, and elk. moose.
Duren is busy on his land. Three of the 30 deer killed on his property this past season have tested positive for MDC, and he is increasingly worried as the disease has now been found in 24 states across the country.
"From a hunting and public health point of view, will we agree with the fact that a majority of our deer are walking around with a disease that will kill them in two years?", A he asked Saturday on his return from a neighboring fishing competition.
Today, many experts are also worried that the disease can be transmitted to humans through the consumption of deer meat. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease and Policy Research at the University of Minnesota, told state lawmakers last week that he feared that this will happen soon .
"It is likely that human cases of chronic debilitating disease associated with the consumption of contaminated meat will be documented in the coming years," he told the Minnesota legislature last week. "It is possible that the number of human cases is substantial and not an isolated event."
Often compared to mad cow disease, the affliction comes from a form of protein called a prion, which accumulates in the animal's brain and lymph nodes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease is always fatal, but before death, animals can lose weight and improve coordination, which makes them more aggressive.
At present, concerns about CWD in the hunting world appear to be largely limited to those who need it in their hunting area.
However, a large number of titles published shortly after Osterholm's testimony warned of a "zombie deer" disease likely to infect humans, which, according to Duren and many other hunting advocates and educators, is not useful.
Steven Rinella, author of game cookbooks, who operates the MeatEater podcast and the TV series Netflix with the same name, called the statement erroneous of the disease during the week "one of the worst cases of use of clickbait ".
"It's always confusing to see such a phenomenon get carried away in the mainstream media, which is grossly distorted and does not take into account all the expertise that has been put to use in this area," he said. he declares.
Although Rinella, 45, is not a fan of recent coverage, he is very concerned about the disease and has seen it spread across the country throughout his career. This disease is not new, he points out: the first case was discovered in Colorado in the 1960s and increased dramatically in the early 2000s.
Today, Rinella, like Duren, says the tests are part of the hunt.
"Currently, concerns about CWD in the hunting community appear to be largely limited to those who are victims in their hunting area," said Rinella. "People wake up when it strikes near their home. I would like hunters who are in areas not yet affected to be more concerned. "
Due to the continuing spread of the disease, public agencies remain vigilant and many of them are setting up places where hunters can drop their deer heads for testing. They receive the results in seven to ten days.
Keith Stephens, Communications Manager for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said his state maintained 35 landing sites in the state, where hunters could pack their deer heads in plastic, stick a note and place them at freezer. They also work with taxidermists and educate hunters on every occasion.
But the number of free trials they do for state hunters is expensive, especially because they have to send everything to be tested in Madison, Wisconsin. Some states have their own testing center.
Would you feed this meat at your 4 years knowing that it could be infected?
"The individual test is not expensive, but we have tested nearly 19,000 cervids since 2016," said Stephens. "I think it's about $ 20 a piece, so that adds up. But we think it's important to ensure that hunters are comfortable eating Arkansas deer. "
Some states have invested in creating premium programs to reduce infected deer populations, while others have invested considerable sums in new research to find a cure or some solution. But everything requires money.
After declaring the state of emergency in 2001, the federal government invested millions of dollars in research into diseases causing chronic withering, but this money declined in the following years and did not increase. was not reinvested. The Ministry of Interior refused to comment.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, one of the Democratic presidential candidates, asked Congress to obtain federal funding by the end of last year.
The decline in funding is a problem for many hunters because they say they know so much about chronic debilitating disease and the potential for it to spread to humans.
"The hardest part is that there are so many unknowns," said Jeff Minsterman, who chases near his home in Pennsylvania. "They did not prove it had happened yet, but at the same time, would you feed this meat to your 4-year-old, knowing that she might be infected?"
Rinella said that following science and investing in research was key.
"I think all the federally elected representatives of all the states where there is a culture of deer hunting should pay a lot of attention to that," said Rinella. "There is a huge industry for rural communities around deer hunting and some potentially significant public safety concerns."
There have been new movements on this front.
Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Was joined by a group of bipartite senators from across the country to introduce a bill earlier this month asking the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture. US Geological Survey to collaborate with academies of science to deepen the disease.
The bill would require groups to provide a study within 180 days, all at the expense of the USDA and the Ministry of the Interior.
The study is welcome for hunters and besieged states, as trade participants say CWD is jeopardizing a popular American pastime.
Deer hunting attracted more than 8.1 million hunters in 2016, according to a 2016 census study and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Together, these people spent nearly $ 15 billion on travel and equipment, launching a significant US industry and many rural cities.
However, there is concern that the hysteria around the MOC may affect the fact that people are traveling or buying certain products.
"I see that it decimates the sporting goods stores and some companies because people do not come, they do not buy the equipment and it's hard to watch this and not to know if that's a solution, "said Minsterman, regional sales manager. for a sports optics company.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to ignore potential health problems due to the narrowness of eating habits between food and hunting.
A research firm on outdoor recreation and natural resources called Responsive Management discovered in 2017 that 39% of hunters practice sport for meat. According to a March 2017 report by the Alliance for Public Wildlife, it is estimated that nearly 15,000 hunter families consume DOC-infected meat each year. The report states that this number is increasing every year by 20% due to the spread of the disease.
"Fortunately, no one has ever contracted the disease by eating CWD virus game, but I'd love to have a crystal ball to see if it's still the case or not in 25 years" said Rinella, who has her animals tested after hunting in the infected areas. "The uncertainty is difficult."