Posted on November 13, 2018, 6:02 pm
GREER – On a cool breakfast break in eastern Arizona, the families who participated in a youth hunting camp woke up before dawn to hunt the alley.
Gage Martinez, 14, was one of the last to return with an alcab, but by the morning of the morning he was hanging and hanging from a tree with his hind legs.
"I was so excited, my hand is shaking," Martinez said.
Meanwhile, three biologists from Arizona's Department of Toys & Fish gathered around the moose's head. One of them used a small knife to cut the animal's cheek to remove the lymph nodes, which would be sent to a laboratory in Colorado to look for chronic weakened disease or CWD.
CWD is a neurodegenerative disease found in deer, eel and canary populations. It is widespread in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, adjacent to Arizona. Infected animals do not respond, degenerate and eventually die.
Last year, CWD was in Montana. The previous year was discovered in Arkansas. The disease has now been detected in 24 states where it has reduced the herds by 20 to 40 percent.
Researchers are trying to learn more about the disease and find a vaccine, but now there is no cure.
"In Colorado and other states, we do not know how to eliminate it," said Travis Duncan, spokesman for Colorado Park and the Wildlife Department. "All we can do is manage it."
Hunters are at the forefront of Arizona's efforts to keep the disease at bay now that the disease breaks out in other states.
If the disease comes to Arizona, state workers and hunters hope to find it quickly.
"We are trying hard to manage our flocks to keep them at a maximum level and all that would be needed is a serious CWD case to throw everything out of balance," said Rusty Rogers, an avid hunter and member of the commission for White Mountain Capital of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
There is no way to determine whether a deer or a sweetheart has CWD until the late stages of the disease when body symptoms occur.
"You may have seen scars or posters with sick deer that lead us to believe that everyone can visually recognize them," said Duncan. "But in fact, most deer with CWD look perfectly healthy and you will never be able to tell them."
There is no blood test for CWD, so the animal must be dead to collect and test a lymph node.
"This is one of the reasons why managing it through hunting and testing the deer that people collect is the best choice we have," said Duncan.
Why the hunting season is decisive
"It's a great challenge," said Anne Justice-Allen, Wildlife Veterinarian with Arizona Game & Fish. "It can be a daunting challenge because it says we did not think it would get it now."
The hunting season is the only time of year when Arizona Game & Fish can test regularly for CWD. The goal is to try as many animals as possible during this time.
"We have to make sure that wildlife populations are healthy because they really play an important role in preserving the landscape and the environment they are preserving," said Justice-Allen.
Last year, the department examined more than 1,200 samples across the country, and officials hope to test even more this year.
"Our goal is to test a number of animals on an annual basis to try to make sure we can detect it if it is present in even 1% of the population," said Justice-Allen.
Arizona Game & Fish opened a new testing center at Springerville to help with this goal and Justice-Allen and her team will go to more hunting camps this season for sample collection and awareness.
"We're talking to hunters and letting them know what we're doing here, and why it's important to do the disease monitoring program and take samples," said David Drever, an intern biologist with Game & Fish.
Knowing their game is safe to eat also provides hunters with peace of mind.
"To be clear, it has never been found to cross the barrage of deer or moose species to humans," said Drever, "but it is still a concern that people had in mind:" I want to eat an animal who has a disease? "
All hunters, however, do not process the meat themselves or take the time to voluntarily provide their animal for inspection, so the department pays professional breeders and livestock farmers to fill the gaps. Justice-Allen said that about half of the Toys & Fish test samples are collected from these sources.
Arizona quickly acted
Beyond testing, Arizona has stricter laws than other states associated with the management of deer deer and how deer meat is handled. Experts say these measures are another key part of the state's success to keep CWD out of the state.
Arizona has banned traditional deer where owners raise deer to hunt or sell by-products because of concerns about the potential role that these farms could have in the spread of CWD.
But zoos and animal sanctuaries, such as the Deer Farm Grand Canyon near Williams, are allowed to keep the captive deer.
Amy Kravitz, a biologist on the deer farm, said the farm is submitting deer for disease control whenever it dies. The farm also needs special permission from Game & Fish to import deer, he said, and can only bring animals from non-CWD states.
The state also forbids humans to bring deer carcasses or central nervous tissue – the brain and the spinal cord, containing the highest concentrations of CWD-causing protein – to Arizona.
In addition, Arizona is one of only a few states forbidding hunters to use urine or grain feeds as a bait to attract the game because of concerns that these methods can cause the disease to spread more quickly.
"Some of these happen in other parts of the country," said Justice-Allen. "Here we are careful and we just do not allow it".
An uphill battle
Despite these efforts, chronic disease loss continued to spread since 1981, when it was first spotted in Colorado deer populations.
"It's something we always think about and worry about," said Justice-Allen.
Arizona Game & Fish has increased her efforts in recent years to collect more samples. The disease, however, is often transmitted by natural deer movement, which can not be controlled. Wild deer can travel 50 to 100 miles, so it is likely that CWD-affected deer from a neighboring state can cross Arizona.
"In some states like Montana, where it was only detected last year, it probably was one or two years before they found it."
The department should remove the infected deer and any other deer that might come into contact with the infected animal and its waste.
In other states, following the detection of CWD, officials released bonus labels to hunters to try to keep the deer population and introduce mandatory CWD tests.
A long way ahead
Arizona's Department of Toys & Fish spends about $ 70,000 in CWD trials every year, which is about 27 percent of the wildlife health budget.
The department additionally recruits trainees in the autumn to help run the Springerville test station and another in Kaibab, collect samples from taxpayers and meat processors, and watch hunting camps.
"It is much easier for us to keep the diseases out of trying and controlling them once they are here," said Justice-Allen.
Despite the success of Arizona so far, experts do not expect the threat to relax soon.
"This is something we have to manage over the next 10 to 15 years and maybe even beyond, who knows," Duncan said. "It will be a decade-long fight, not just every year."
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