Op-ed: Don’t fear the deer

Bill Bates, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Much of the concern about CWD is rooted in fear. One fear is how it might affect deer and hunting opportunities.

Now that September is well underway, many hunters are sharpening up their skills in anticipation of a trip to the woods for deer season. However, if the past few years are any indication, the news will likely carry plenty of scary stories about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a deer ailment that has been detected in 24 states, including Utah.

As a wildlife disease specialist with more than 40 years of experience, fall hunting season is a good opportunity to clear up some common misconceptions and unfounded rumors about CWD that I see nearly every day in the news and on the internet.

Much of the concern about CWD is rooted in fear. One fear is how it might affect deer and hunting opportunities.

From a scientific point of view, the evidence so far is that the effect is biologically insignificant. CWD has a long incubation period. It could be years before it has an effect on a deer. Deer will often die of something else first, such as predation, starvation or hunting. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found “no evidence that CWD was substantially increasing mortality rates” when they studied the issue.

Another fear is that people will become scared of hunting. For several reasons, this fear is overblown.

First, CWD does not affect people. It affects deer, elk and moose, but there are no documented cases in people. This isn’t unusual; there are lots of things that affect cats, dogs, horses and wildlife that don’t affect us, and vice versa. The World Health Organization notes that humans have lived alongside sheep for years, and yet scrapie — CWD for sheep — has never crossed the species barrier to infect humans. The same is true of similar prion diseases in mink and cats.

A study released this summer casts doubt on this, as researchers were able to infect a handful of monkeys with CWD. While the research, which has not been peer-reviewed, made for scary headlines, a look at the methodology shows a number of flaws, such as the fact that some of the transmission methods used to infect do not occur…

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