DNR confirms further spread of deer disease through Iowa

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Deer testing positive or chronic wasting disease in Iowa since 2013, via the Iowa DNR. 

Julia Poska | February 14, 2020

Forty-three deer killed by hunters and vehicles in Iowa during the 2019-2020 hunting season tested positive for chronic wasting disease, also known as “zombie deer disease.”

This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Iowa’s wild deer population to 89 since 2013, according to an Iowa Department of Natural Resources press release. That’s a 93% increase in one year.

Chronic wasting disease is a 100% fatal neurological disease found primarily in deer and elk that causes loss of bodily functions. An abnormal protein causes the infection, spread via bodily fluids from deer to deer. Some symptoms include excessive salivation, weight loss, listlessness and drooping ears and head.

The disease is in the same family as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as Mad Cow Disease. The Centers for Disease Control reports that there is no conclusive evidence of the disease transferring to humans, but the center recommends avoiding contacts with infected venison.

The Iowa DNR collected samples from about 7,000 deer hunted or killed by cars across the state during the 2019-2020 hunting season. Samples from Woodbury, Winneshiek, Fayette and Decatur counties tested positive for the first time.

Officials have identified chronic wasting disease in wild deer populations in eight counties overall. Deer in several captive populations have tested positive as well (see this interactive map for more information).

For more information on how hunters can help limit the spread of chronic wasting disease, check out this flyer.

Iowa’s Deer Harvest Declined for Eighth Straight Year

Photo by Rich Herrmann; Flickr
Photo by Rich Herrmann; Flickr

For the first time since the mid-1990’s, the DNR reported that Iowa’s deer harvest has dropped below 100,000. In 2013, hunters reported 99,406 deer.

This indicates a positive response from hunters when asked to reduce the size of the herd, but now the DNR is encouraging hunters to work with landowners and base their harvest on local herd conditions.

Deer hunting provides an economic impact of almost $214 million, paying more than $15 million in federal taxes and nearly $15 million in state taxes. It also supports 2,800 jobs and provides more than $67 million in earnings.

Debate in Rock Island over potential deer kill

Photo by fifteenthirty, Flickr.

A debate in Rock Island continues over whether or not the city should have a deer kill to thin their deer population.

Proponents of the kill argue that the deer population is already too high, and they fear that it will continue to increase if they do not take action.

Many of these proponents are upset about the number of plants and gardens destroyed by the deer. Some residents also feel that they can no longer let children play in their yards without constant supervision due to the large deer population.

On the other side, opponents argue that the issues caused by the deer are not great enough to justify killing them. Some opponents also worry about potential accidents caused by hunting, especially in such a residential city.

Part of the problem in this debate is that the deer population is unknown. An aerial survey would reveal the deer population, but this requires a layer of snow on the ground.

Read more about this issue from KWQC here.

Safety reminders for hunters

Last Friday, two Iowa men sustained gunshot wounds while deer hunting.

A man from Lansing was hit in the back of the head while hunting in Allamakee County, and a man from Muscatine injured his hand when his gun discharged while he was putting it away.

Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources offers four rules for firearm safety that should help prevent these types of incidents:

  1. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
  2. Always point the muzzle in a safe direction
  3. Be certain of your target and what is beyond it
  4. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot

For more information, visit Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources hunting safety page here.

DNR uses hunting season to test deer for fatal disease

Photo by ilmungo, Flickr

The start of the deer hunting season also means the start of testing deer tissue samples for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Every state that borders Iowa has confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease – a fatal disease that affects deer, elk and moose by altering proteins, which leads to the formation of small holes in the infected animal’s brain.

The DNR hopes to collect 4,500 samples during the hunting season from the harvested deer of willing farmers.

Although there is no evidence that humans can contract the disease, the National Institute of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hunters do not eat the deer’s brain, eyeballs, or spinal cord, and wear protective gloves while working with deer carcasses.

For more information, see the Iowa DNR press release here.