First Confirmed Case of CWD found in Val Verde County

State officials detected chronic wasting disease in a free-ranging, 5 1/2 -year-old whitetail doe last month between Del Rio and Amistad Reservoir, making it the first confirmed case of the disease in Val Verde County.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) have designated roughly 250 sq. miles of land around Lake Amistad National Recreation Area and Del Rio as a CWD Surveillance Zone, according to a TPWD news release. About 3,500 acres of public hunting land fall within this CWD zone, give or take depending on lake water levels.

“Because eradication is thought to be impossible once CWD becomes established in a population, it is imperative that we work with other agencies, landowners, and hunters to contain this disease within a limited geographic area and prevent it from spreading further among Texas deer populations,” said Dr. Bob Dittmar, TPWD’s Wildlife Veterinarian. “This containment strategy is particularly urgent considering this detection happened in the middle of the general deer season.”

All white-tailed deer, exotic cervids, or other CWD-suspected species harvested within the designated CWD zone must be taken to a TPWD check station within 48 hours of harvest. The Del Rio check station is located at 4957 US-90, Del Rio, Texas, 78840. The check station phone number is (830) 353-2539.

Hunters are also prohibited from transporting animal carcasses or parts out of the CWD zone, without first following movement restrictions found in the TPWD Outdoor Annual or on the website.

The CWD-positive doe was found in a rural subdivision north of Highway 90 and south of Lake Amistad, which is about 10 miles west of the closest active captive breeding facility and release site, according to TPWD. TPWD records show there has never been a confirmed case of CWD anywhere in Val Verde county – in wild deer or in captive facilities – and no confirmed cases in any adjacent counties for at least the last eight years that data is available.

“CWD is a serious issue across the country and Texas is no exception,” said Richard Rosenthal, policy chair for the Texas Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “It is our responsibility – as hunters, conservationists, and stewards of our natural resources – that we do everything we can to help TPWD in their containment efforts. Please make sure you read and follow all the CWD restrictions if you hunt these areas.”

Texas has strict laws in place to prevent the spread of CWD from breeder facilities to wild animals. Breeder facilities are classified based on their risk of CWD exposure, with TC1 and TC2 representing the lowest risk, and TC3 denoting a facility that has had some kind of exposure to CWD at least once in the past five years.

Of the six breeder facilities in Val Verde county, four are designated TC1, one has TC2 designation, and one has TC3 designation.  Two TC1 facilities are the only ones qualified to transport deer from their facilities to designated release sites. The TC3 breeder facility is located on the other side of the county from where the infected deer was found, about 60 miles away.

Release sites are classified using a similar system, and all release sites regardless of its CWD risk status are required to be surrounded by a 7-foot high fence. All but one of the release sites in the area only receive deer from TC1 facilities, or facilities with the lowest risk of CWD exposure. None of the release sites receive deer from TC3 facilities. Since most of these release sites only receive deer from facilities with the lowest risk of disease exposure, most landowners are not required to test harvested deer for CWD.

According to data found on the TPWD website, Texas had eight confirmed cases of the disease in 2019. Five cases were in free-ranging deer in El Paso, Medina, and Hartley counties. Two cases were found in breeder deer in Uvalde county.

TPWD keeps a running list of CWD-positives on an online tracker. According to that data, there have been 147 confirmed cases of CWD in the state since the first were found in a herd of free-ranging mule deer in Hudspeth county in 2012. Of the 147 confirmed cases, 110 were found in breeder facilities or release sites, while 36 were found in wild deer. Most of the CWD-positives in the breeder facilities all came from the same facility in Uvalde county, which had 68 cases over a three-year period.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease found among cervids. An animal may carry the disease for years without outward indication, but in the latter stages, signs may include listlessness, lowering of the head, weight loss, repetitive walking in set patterns, and a lack of responsiveness.

There is no evidence that CWD poses a risk to humans or non-cervids, but as a precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend not to consume meat from infected animals.

About Jake Walker

Jake is the Newsletter Chair and Austin Public Outreach Committee Chair for the Texas Chapter of BHA. He lives deep in the heart of Austin, TX.

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