A plan is in place in case chronic wasting disease comes to Alabama - and that even reindeer are being barred from crossing state lines for Christmas programs.
Ed Poolos of Jasper, the deputy commissioner for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told the Rotary Club of Jasper on Tuesday that chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is the top priority with Conservation at this time. The disease has raised concerns with hunters and wildlife agencies across the nation as it attacks white tail deer, among other animals.
The first year Wisconsin dealt with it, that state lost half of all its hunters - which Poolos said would be disastrous for Alabama, as Conservation does not rely on the General Fund but on other revenue, such as licenses related to hunting.
A total of 24 states have now been impacted, including Tennessee and Mississippi, he said. Canada, South Korea, Norway and Finland have also been impacted.
"It's right on our door step," he said, adding Alabama is doing more testing than any state in the Southeast. Conservation's Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division reports it has sample and tested nearly 8,000 wild white-tailed deer and captive deer of several specials, with no CWD detected in the state.
The state's latest response plan was released Friday, July 12.
"Now if you kill a deer in another state, you can't bring the carcass back in. You have to debone it," he said.
The deer shed a protein into the environment when they have the disease, contaminating it, he said.
"You can't kill (the protein)," he said. "You can't put chlorine on it and get rid of it."
According to Conservation and Natural Resources PowerPoint slides that Poolos later shared with the Daily Mountain Eagle, CWD is one of a family of diseases known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSE). It was first discovered in 1967 in Colorado, and was seen spreading there and in Wyoming in 1996.
It results from an infectious agent called a prion. Prions are made of a protein material that becomes affected in a way to become infectious, negatively affecting other proteins.
This disease affects members of the deer family, including reindeer, moose, elk, mule deer, and white-tailed deer, according to the slides. The disease is contagious and always fatal. The infection can occur through animal-to-animal contact, through saliva, blood, semen, feces, infected carcass parts, and through environments contaminated by those infected materials. There is no known vaccine or cure.
Clinical symptoms for the animals include emaciation, abnormal behavior, poor coordination, decreased wariness, drooping posture and excessive drooling, drinking and urination, according to the slides. To date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infection in people.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommends not eating a deer with the disease, Poolos said, likening the disease to Mad Cow Disease.
The situation is to the point that reindeer can contract the disease, and this year reindeer are being banned from being imported into the state for Christmas shows, as they have been coming in only days before a show.
"So everybody is against us. We're against Santa Claus," he said to laughter. He noted that some already have reindeer inside the state to do the job.
If the disease comes to Alabama, the state will control the area and will do everything possible to not allow it to spread, allowing extended hunting seasons in those areas to take affected deer out of place. "We have a large response plan we have worked diligently on," he said.
He said hunting is a way of life in Alabama, and state officials don't want a fear of hunting to prevent young hunters here from participating.
To report any suspicious activity concerning live deer transport, carcass importation or sick or abnormally acting deer, one may contact the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division at 334-242-3469 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours, one may call 1-800-272-GAME. One may also email to DCNR.SickDeerReport@dcnr.alabama.gov.