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Dept. of Wildlife Resources hosts information meetings about chronic waste disease in New River Valley

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 5:43 AM EDT
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MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The recent discovery of chronic waste disease in a deer that was harvested in Montgomery County is spurring action from the Department of Wildlife Resources. The DWR is holding a series of informational meetings about chronic waste disease (CWD) found in part of the New River Valley.

“We wanted to meet with hunters and review with them the different changes they could expect this fall in regards to hunting regulations, carcass transport, feeding regulations,” Megan Kirchgessner, a wildlife veterinarian, told WDBJ7. “We also wanted to let them know the rationale behind these changes so that they would understand why we had instituted them.”

In November 2020 from part of Montgomery County, a deer was harvested that was later discovered to have had CWD which affects the brain and spinal cord.

Dept. of Wildlife Resources map of where the deer with chronic waste disease was harvested and...
Dept. of Wildlife Resources map of where the deer with chronic waste disease was harvested and the surrounding areas affected.(Dept. of Wildlife Resources)

”These neurological signs can include a loss of fear of humans or pets, confusion, drooling,” Kirchgessner told the audience at Tuesday night’s meeting. “These animals will stand with a drooped head, droopy ears. Sometimes they’ll have trouble keeping their balance.”

This disease is fatal and easily spread to other animals like moose and elk, so the Department of Wildlife Resources is wasting no time in managing the situation.

“Things are going to be different for landowners and hunters this fall,” Kirchgessner said.

Effective immediately for Montgomery, Floyd and Pulaski counties, you’re not allowed to rehabilitate white-tailed deer fawn; and there’s restricted transport of whole deer carcasses and any parts containing brain or spinal cord tissue out of the area.

There is also a prohibition on feeding of deer year-round in most counties and cities in Southwest Virginia.

“They flat out said don’t do it. It’s literally illegal now,” a hunter from Blacksburg, Paul Spaulding told WDBJ7. “So 99.9% of hunters that do go out there and follow the regulations, and I’ll be one of those, and I won’t put them out.”

“You have to commit,” Kirchgessner said. “You’re not going to see changes spread or prevalence rates in 2-3 years. You’re really going to have to commit to a decade of follow-up to see if that management action is going to be effective.”

The DWR is hoping to test hundreds of deer this year for CWD to help determine how this disease may have spread and how to prevent it from spreading further.

One of the biggest changes is to the hunting season.

“Starting this Fall, we have enhanced our hunting opportunities in the disease management area by increasing the regular firearm season in Montgomery and Pulaski, from two weeks to four weeks. And we’re going to have some general firearm antler-less opportunities in September and then in January, February and March.”

This will allow the DWR to test more deer for CWD to make more informed decisions, as well as decrease the deer population to mitigate the disease’s spread.

However, its not just hunters the DWR needs to partner with, but landowners.

“It’s especially critical when CWD is detected in a population that we need to have opportunities for hunters to access land and harvest deer,” Kirchgessner said.

“A lot of the reasons we have too many deer is because we don’t have enough access,” Spaulding said. “So if the landowners give the hunters better access, we can control the population a little better and a lot of the diseases like this will be kept in check.”

Wednesday, Aug. 25 there will be another meeting from 6-8 p.m. at the Floyd County High School Auditorium.

Then there will be a third meeting in Pulaski County Sept. 15.

For more information on chronic waste disease from the Department of Wildlife Resources, click here.

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