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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy file photo/ARKANSAS GAME AND FISH COMMISSION Deer walk through a field.

Chronic wasting disease in deer has been found in Benton, Washington and Sebastian counties.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission confirms two deer in Benton County tested positive for the disease, which is fatal to deer and elk that become infected. One deer in Washington County and one in Sebastian County also tested positive, according to Game and Fish.

The deer were killed by hunters during the 2017-2018 modern gun season. The two Benton County deer are a 2.5-year-old doe harvested near Decatur and a 5.5-year-old doe taken near Springtown. The Washington County deer is a 1.5-year-old buck shot near Prairie Grove. An adult buck taken in Sebastian County near Lavaca tested positive as well. Confirmation was by the Wisconsin Veterinary Laboratory in Madison, Wis.

Chronic wasting disease has been found among deer and elk in 11 Arkansas counties. The 11 counties comprise a Chronic Wasting Disease management zone set up by Game and Fish. Special deer hunting regulations apply within the zone.

Benton, Washington and Sebastian counties have not been placed in the zone yet, but that will likely happen, said Mark Hutchings, a Game and Fish wildlife biologist. Hutchings works out of the agency's regional office near the Beaver Lake dam in Carroll County.

"The point we're at now is making sure the test results are 100 percent accurate," Hutchings said. A test occasionally shows a false positive, he added. "This really is a surprise to us because the deer in west Benton County are so far from the CWD hot zone."

The nearest previous confirmation case of the disease is in northern Madison County, miles from Decatur and Springtown in Benton County. If it was going to turn up in Benton County, Hutchings expected it would be in east Benton County.

The Washington and Sebastian County positive deer are also far from previous confirmations.

Public meetings will likely be set up to answer questions from residents of the three counties. Dates have not been determined.

Rick Sayre, a deer hunter from Cave Springs, said the confirmation is not good news, but he saw a bright spot.

Deer harvested in the 11-county management zone may not be transported out of the zone unless the meat is deboned. If the three counties become part of the zone, deer harvested in the current 11-county zone may be brought back to Benton, Washington or Sebastian counties without being deboned.

Hutchings said that is true.

Sayre said he has permission to hunt some parcels of private land in Madison County, but stopped hunting there because the county is in the zone.

"It will open up more hunting areas for me," he said, because he can bring the whole deer home for processing.

The new confirmations "don't seem to bother me as bad" as when the disease was first confirmed in Arkansas, Sayre said. "They're going to keep finding it. The harder they look, the more they'll find it."

Chronic wasting disease was first detected in Arkansas on Feb. 23, 2016, when a hunter-harvested elk in Newton County tested positive. The first Arkansas deer with the disease was verified March 3, 2016, also in Newton County.

The disease infects cervids, which include deer, elk and moose. It is almost always fatal to the animal. It was first documented among captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967 and has been detected in 24 states and two Canadian provinces, according to Game and Fish.

The disease is not known to infect people who eat meat from positive cervids, but Game and Fish discourages people from eating meat from a positive deer or elk.

"We've said from the beginning it's a good idea for hunters to get their deer tested," Hutchings said.

Game and Fish operated testing sites in November during the modern gun deer season. Archery is the only deer season open now. Bowhunters who would like to have a deer tested can contact any Game and Fish office, Hutchings said. A tissue sample is taken from the deer and sent to a lab for testing. The test is free, he said.

Feeding deer is against the law in the 11-county management zone to prevent spreading the disease. Hutchings said Benton, Washington and Sebastian county residents should not feed deer, though it is still legal, in the wake of the positive tests. Deer feeding concentrates deer and makes it easier to pass from deer to deer, he said.

Hutchings said Game and Fish would like to test more deer from the locations of the four recent positive sites The agency may issue depredation permits to landowners that allows them to kill more than the season limit so those deer can be tested, he said.

NW News on 01/11/2018

Print Headline: Deer disease found in local counties

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