The National Deer Association (NDA) recently joined several conservation partners in penning a letter to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) regarding the AGFC’s Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management and Response Plan for the years 2021-2025. The proposed plan will go before the Commissioners in February for a vote.
First discovered in Arkansas in wild elk and deer in 2016, CWD-positive individuals have since been identified in 14 northern Arkansas counties. Early sampling efforts near the first positive detections showed a local prevalence rate of 23%, but the detected prevalence rate for the 14 positive counties since 2016 is 3.3%. The proposed hybrid response and management plan serves as the guiding document for the agency’s intended response to the detection of CWD in areas and outlining the agency’s ongoing management of the disease in areas where it is known to occur.
We applaud AGFC’s leadership and proactive approach to managing CWD in Arkansas, and we encourage AGFC to continue to follow national best practices to manage the spread of CWD in the state. Specifically, we request that the Commission follow recommendations by AGFC biologists to prohibit the recreational feeding of wildlife year-round in the CWD Management Zone due to the risk of increased transmission. However, we request that the Commission also restrict baiting year-round on both public and private lands within this Zone to further reduce the artificial congregation of deer. Scientific evidence demonstrates that baiting and feeding (including mineral licks) cause an unnatural concentration of cervids and facilitates the spread of infectious CWD prions through increased animal to animal contact and contact with contaminated surfaces and soil. There is no doubt among the CWD research community that unnatural concentrations of wildlife can efficiently spread CWD in infected cervid populations.
We also support the Commission’s proposal to remove antler point restrictions (APRs) in new areas and counties added to the CWD Management Zone. Five years of data from 10 counties in Arkansas’ CWD Management Zone shows that removing APRs has not negatively impacted antlerless harvest or buck age structure. Rather, removing APRs has aided hunters in harvesting more deer of both sexes, increasing the overall harvest in those counties. With the increased harvest, removing APRs has potentially helped limit the spread of CWD both within and outside the counties. Even more, AGFC data shows that 0.5 and 1.5-year-old bucks in the CWD Management Zone have uniquely high disease prevalence (25-29%). These prevalence rates are higher than all other known prevalence rates in young male deer nationwide.
As many states have learned, limiting the spread of CWD is a daunting task and early detection and rapid response once the disease is found is critical for long-term management. Adhering to strict best management practices is key to slowing the spread of CWD in Arkansas’s wild deer and elk herds.