A new South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks proposal would require deer harvested by hunters in Custer State Park to be tested for chronic wasting disease.
The proposal, which was introduced in May at the GF&P commission meeting at Custer State Park, is similar to a current requirement for elk killed in the park, and it would be used to determine the prevalence of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in the park deer population.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal brain disease of deer, elk and moose that is caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. Animals infected with CWD show progressive loss of weight and body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, depression, loss of muscle control and eventual death.
CWD was first found in a white-tailed deer in Fall River County during the 2001 hunting season. In South Dakota, CWD has been detected in wildlife from Lawrence, Pennington, Custer and Fall River counties along with Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park. During the 2016-2017 sampling period by GF&P, 50 elk and five deer tested positive for CWD.
According to health officials at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, no link has been found between CWD and any neurological disease in humans. Still, hunters should minimize their risk of exposure by avoiding eating meat from animals that appear sick or test positive for CWD, and wearing gloves while field dressing an animal.
Currently, hunters must submit samples of elk they harvest in Custer State Park, and GF&P's director of the state wildlife division Tony Lief said hunters have been on board with submitting samples.
"We have really good compliance, obviously it’s a violation of the rule to not comply, but hunters are willing to comply with those regulations," he said. "What we want to do is get a better handle on the prevalence rate of the disease in deer. We took that step to require samples from all elk, but we are harvesting deer, and deer is susceptible to the same disease so we wanted to get samples from those animals as well."
Anyone who suspects a deer or elk has CWD is asked to contact the Rapid City GF&P office at 394-2391 or the Animal Industry Board at 773-3321.
The proposal will be considered for adoption after a public hearing, set for 2 p.m. CDT June 7 at the next GF&P commission meeting in Aberdeen.
One change that was finalized during the meeting in Custer was a slight change to the west river deer hunting season, as after a three year absence there will be a short period later in the season for anterless deer hunting.
The season will be Dec. 8-16.
Lief said the change was made as a result of requests from hunters to bring back the the season later in the year.
"The only reason we went back in this year and made this small change, and I guess to some it may be small, to others it may not be small, was because there was some interest to reinstate the late season dates for antlerless deer hunting," he said.
The regular deer season will run from Nov. 10-25.
Journal reporter Geoff Preston contributed to this report