Column: It’s time for outdoorsmen to step up

Published 10:27 am Friday, February 9, 2024

Science was right.. 

Over the summer I wrote a column about how we should have concern for Chronic Wasting Disease and why I was frustrated with our current Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks commission. My fear is the commission had missed a chance to slow down the spread of CWD in Southwest Mississippi from adjacent positives in Tensas Parish. 

A recent positive detection of CWD in Claiborne County three miles inland from the main navigational channel of the Mississippi River and roughly 10 miles from positives in Tensas Parish brings my fear to reality. We only have one chance to manage this disease properly. A study by the University of Wisconsin reported once disease prevalence gets above 5 percent in a deer herd CWD becomes difficult to manage. Environmental contamination above 5 percent only leads to more and more exposure for healthy deer to the infectious prions shed mainly  through bodily fluids of infected deer. At under 5 percent prevalence, you have a chance of managing disease. 

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We need to look no further than Arkansas to see what happens in areas where CWD prevalence is high. Arkansas, my home state, detected CWD too late and has reduced antler size restrictions in a shift from trophy buck management to disease management. Ongoing studies there show fawn recruitment is lower and CWD is killing deer. Did you know 61 percent of fawns in the Northwest Arkansas CWD Hotzone die before they reach a year old. My Mississippi State education tells me that is not sustainable. 

Over the years, Outdoorsmen have earned credit for restoring the deer herd in Mississippi, saving the wild turkey in the US and raising money for conservation efforts of duck breeding habitat. We are stronger together, it’s time we step up and take on CWD together. 

I believe we still have a chance to keep CWD contained in Claiborne County. First, the commission needs to take action to reinstate the feed ban, listen to science and follow best management practices. Hunters should listen too and stop the supplemental feeding of deer. Feeders are unnatural congregating points for deer and can exacerbate the spread of CWD. Besides, corn has negative impacts on wild turkey populations. 

Mississippi’s CWD zone radiuses need to be bigger. Louisiana uses a 30 mile buffer zone, I believe Mississippi would greatly benefit from this. Mississippi State University Deer Lab research has shown bucks can cover a lot of territory in the southwest part of the state, one of them traveled nearly 20 miles from his home ranges. It should be noted our management plan initially had bigger zones but the current commission shrunk it down. 

Outdoorsmen need to step up too. We need to reach out to our legislators and let them know how important it is to get this commission fixed. It is past time for reform and currently there are pieces of legislation in both the Mississippi House and Senate which aim to do so. 

We need to let the commission hear our voice and our concern for our wildlife. 

This deer season, I missed three deer and sadly was not able to submit a sample for CWD testing. More samples are needed in Southwest Mississippi and other parts of the state. 

Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts should pay attention to the latest on wildlife and wildlife issues. We have more access to information in today’s world than one could have ever imagined. Chronic Wasting Disease is not going away so we need to collectively take it seriously before it exponentially eats away at our deer population. 

I’ve had readers, including my dad, ask me what the long term effect of CWD is. Science is still figuring out those answers. In the meantime, I would like to use every tool available to keep the disease in check if we can.