Deer with chronic wasting disease found in more Alberta areas
Documents reveal government struggled with hunter surveillance program
By Hanneke Brooymans, edmontonjournal.com September 10, 2010 1:02 PM Be the first to post a comment
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Mule deer bucks Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, The Journal, Edmonton Journal EDMONTON — The Alberta government is expanding its hunter surveillance program for chronic wasting disease, as positive deer continue to turn up in an increasingly larger area.
An additional seven wildlife management units were added to the list this year, bringing the total to 26. Hunters must turn in the heads of any deer killed in this area for testing. The area began by hugging the Alberta/Saskatchewan border, but has since expanded west and south.
Tests caught 75 positive cases among the thousands of mule and white-tailed deer turned in so far. The first positive case was in an emaciated mule deer found in 2005 in a farmyard about 30 kilometres southeast of Oyen.
The disease is thought to have spread from positive cases in Saskatchewan.
“The disease appears to be spreading and new outlier cases were detected north of Jenner and northwest of Elkwater,” say documents obtained by The Journal from Alberta Sustainable Resource Development under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The documents reveal that, as the hunter surveillance program expanded, the ministry struggled to keep up with the testing and reporting of results back to hunters. One hunter complained about how long it took to get test results.
CWD is caused by a prion, similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, that causes deer to slowly waste away. There is no evidence that the disease can infect humans, but the World Health Organization has advised that a precautionary approach be taken and that any animal product known to be infected with any prion disease not be consumed by humans.
A briefing note to the minister and deputy minister explained that, “There are fewer wage staff working on the CWD program because of the Government of Alberta hiring freeze. This resulted in slower testing and reporting this year. It also amplified some weaknesses in the CWD data management process.
“The current process for tracking and managing data associated with hunter-killed deer was originally set up as an ad hoc means when fewer than 1,000 heads were collected per year. The program has expanded to encompass 4,000- 5,000 heads. The system is inadequate to handle that volume. The process is extremely labour-intensive and there are many places where files or data are handled manually.”
In the case of the hunter who complained, they didn’t have contact information for that person. But in general, it did take longer to get information out to hunters last season, acknowledged Darcy Whiteside, a ministry spokesman. This year they have instituted a bar code system that will track animals through the process from the time a head is turned in, on through the lab to the blood sample and test result.
The government is allowing increased hunting opportunities in areas where CWD has been found. But they are not resurrecting more aggressive, government-run winter control programs from previous years, which were regarded by experts as the only hope for preventing the disease from spreading.
David Coltman, a University of Alberta biology professor, is winding down a research program on CWD in deer in Alberta. Using collaring and monitoring of animals, in addition to genetic work, he and his team discovered that deer move a lot and in all directions and that none of the Alberta populations have any natural resistance to the disease.
“Basically, (CWD) is gradually going to creep in all directions,” he said.