Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wasting Disease

Seldom do my other hobbies intersect with the Civil War. But today I found a news article on Civil War Interactive that says there will be public meetings in western Maryland to determine what to do about chronic wasting disease in white tail deer at Antietam and Monocacy. As a deer hunter in Colorado I am familiar with chronic wasting disease.

It is a brain disease that causes deer to stop eating and eventually waste away to nothing and die. It has been in Colorado for quite awhile. The disease is spread when deer are in close proximity to each other. As the disease takes its toll it is easier to determine which deer have the disease. A deer that has recently contracted the fatal disease however is difficult to spot. The only currently known test involves brain tissue. No one goes to the time and money to harvest brain samples in a non lethal method from deer. So the way to test a population of deer is to kill a bunch of them and run the test. Of course this upsets many different groups of people. On the other hand the only known way to control the disease is to thin the herd.

Apparently there is not chronic wasting disease at Antietam or Monocacy yet but they will soon find themselves in a catch-22. If they ignore the issue they run the risk of having emaciated deer wandering around the park and dying in front of visitors. If they take steps now to research the issue they will certainly have to kill quite a few deer, and I'm sure nature watching is a prime reason to visit the park for some people (some people come for the nature and never realize the history), and the killing of a large number of deer won't make them happy although the other option probably doesn't make them happy either. Then of course if the results are positive the park will need to go kill a bunch more deer.

So far no report has shown that the disease can transfer to humans when they eat venison but I personally would not want to risk it. I'd imagine the park would have to do the harvesting by archery because there is no telling where bullets might end up. Bullets can pass through deer, ricochet off a rock and strike a monument. The whole thing seems a bit odd but I think the park will almost have to end up doing this at some point. They might stick to observation for now since chronic wasting disease has not been found in the park yet, but once it does they will need to aggressively attack the issue.

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