Hunters applaud province for addressing disease that could devastate deer

Chronic wasting disease has already been found in Quebec deer

Krystalle Ramlakhan · CBC News · 

Ontario hunters concerned about a disease threatening the province’s deer population say they’re pleased to hear the government is taking steps to halt its spread.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of deer, elk, moose and caribou. One recent case was confirmed in Quebec, just 15 kilometres from the Ontario border, leading to a massive deer cull in that province.

So far, however, it hasn’t been found in wild Ontario deer.

To keep it that way, the province will be adding more surveillance teams — 14 more staff working in teams of two — to help collect deer samples for testing when the hunting season starts in November.

The new teams will be operating in wildlife management unit 65, a wedge-shaped area that stretches from Ottawa south to near Iroquois, Ont. and east to the Quebec border.

There are already three public drop-off locations with freezers, and five more are being added east of Ottawa.

“We need to take the necessary steps in order to prevent its spread in Ontario or to identify it as soon as possible,” said Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Jeff Yurek.

The additional monitoring will cost about $50,000, Yurek said.

Hunters concerned about disease

There’s currently no definitive scientific evidence to suggest CWD can be transmitted to humans, and there have been no reported cases of people infected with CWD, according to the province of Ontario’s website.

However, public health officials recommend people take precautions when handling carcasses and to avoid exposure to and consumption of CWD-positive animals.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has already begun surveillance in southwestern Ontario.

“It’s not a matter of whether it’s going to be here. It’s a matter of when it’s going to be here,” said Keith Fowler, an avid hunter for the past 20 years and the president of the Rideau/St. Lawrence branch of the Quality Deer Management Association of Canada.

Fowler said he’s working with other hunting groups to encourage hunters to provide samples of the deer they kill for testing, and is also planning a local information session.

“It basically destroys deer … there just won’t be any left. That’s basically what happens,” said Fowler.

“Basically you lose your heritage … girls like my daughter, [who’s] 15 months old, she probably won’t get to see deer.”

No known cure

Andy Moore of Perth, Ont., hunts in an area that’s been monitored in the past for CWD.

He said he’s pretty concerned about its potential arrival in Ontario.

“There’s no known cure for it, so once it gets into a population it can be very hard to control or eradicate. So it could be serious trouble for the deer population, for sure,” said Moore, the president of the Quality Deer Management Association of Canada’s Lanark County branch.

Moore said he’s been hunting for 16 years, since he was 15 years old.

He said a number of hunters he knows have submitted samples in the past, and he believes they’ll continue to do so.

“The people that hunt love to do it. And they’re there to put food on the table for their families and enjoy nature,” Moore said.

“So if they’re serious about hunting, they’re obviously going to be pretty seriously concerned about the deer herd.”