A new management plan, calling for samples from more than 900 white-tailed deer to be harvested in Western New York this fall and winter, may be the key to protecting the estimated 1 million deer roaming free throughout New York State, state officials believe.
The plan is being described in a series of statewide public information sessions on the topic of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, a fatal condition believed to be a threat to the state's wild and captive deer and elk.
CWD, similar to mad cow disease, affects the nervous system of deer and elk. It was discovered in a Colorado wildlife research facility in 1967.
CWD was not detected in the East until this spring, when a routine surveillance test identified it in both captive and wild white-tailed deer in Oneida County. In early September, similar testing in West Virginia found CWD in two road-killed white-tail deer.
Jim Snider of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Fish, Wildlife & Marine Resources Division, spoke about the problem to a handful of hunters who attended a session at Cuba High School in Allegany County last week.
"There have never been any documented deaths of humans from eating contaminated deer or elk," Snider said, anticipating the question that is most often asked. "Deer can pick it up and act healthy and normal for 18 months or maybe longer."
Snider said the goal is to contain any CWD in the area where it is discovered by prohibiting removal of deer carcasses and registering captive deer.
A five-year testing and monitoring program in a 17-town containment area in Oneida and Madison counties is currently under way, he said. Wild deer rehabilitation will be prohibited there, he said, and residents may no longer keep road-killed deer carcasses.
Throughout the state, inspections are under way at deer farms and rehabilitators, but test results from these sources and in wild deer are not immediately known. The DEC's new management plan will sample lymph nodes and brain tissue from as many as 5,000 deer killed by hunters and on roadways.
Snider said the DEC will collect 930 samples in Western New York based on deer population. Cattaraugus and Allegany counties will provide a minimum of 440 samples from 33 deer processors.
Turnout for the 22 CWD informational sessions has been light, with 15 attending a recent Lockport session and 12 showing up in Binghamton.
The last presentation in the series will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the theater of Jamestown Community College's Carnahan Building. Information on CWD can be found at the DEC's Web site:www.dec.state.ny.us/website/dfwmr/w ildlife/deer/currentcwd.html.