Michael A. Sawyers
ROMNEY, W.Va. — Hampshire County deer hunters don’t believe that the spread of chronic wasting disease can be controlled. About half of the hunters are concerned about the situation.
That information and more comes from an extensive telephone survey conducted by Responsive Management of Harrisonburg, Va., which was hired by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources to investigate hunters’ attitudes about the deer disease.
At the time the survey was conducted, the DNR knew of 99 deer that had tested positive for CWD. All but one were in Hampshire County. The lone exception was in neighboring Hardy County.
That total has now reached 114, according to Wildlife Biologist Rich Rogers in Romney. All are within the established CWD containment zone.
Chronic wasting disease is a neurological ailment found in deer and elk. It belongs to a family of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. The disease slowly attacks the brain, causing the animal to progressively become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and eventually die. There is no evidence to suggest that CWD poses a risk for humans or domestic animals.
Licensed hunters at least 15 years old who had killed a deer in Hampshire County during the past 10 years were surveyed.
Only 9 percent said worries about CWD kept them from hunting. However, 69 percent said they would stop hunting deer in Hampshire if it becomes known that CWD can infect humans.
A nearly similar number of hunters said they would stop hunting in Hampshire County if half the deer become infected.
Mineral County resident Mike Cornachia, who hunts family land on Whitehorse Mountain near Springfield, was surveyed.
“Between me, my wife and my daughter we get about 10 deer a year,” Cornachia said Wednesday. “None of our deer have ever tested positive.”
Cornachia said his family doesn’t wait to hear the testing results before beginning to consume the venison. “But if I ever found out that CWD was right where we hunt, then I’d wait to get the test results before we ate the meat,” he said.
Special regulations put in place in the county because of CWD have made it illegal to bait for deer there.
“At first I was one of those who was upset about that, upset that we couldn’t put our corn piles out. But now I think it is the best thing that ever happened.”
Cornachia said he is seeing more and bigger bucks every season since baiting was made illegal.
“Because there are no corn piles, the bucks stay on their feet and move around looking for food,” he said. “Where there is corn all over the woods they eat it at night and lay down during the day.”
Cornachia said he enjoys talking with the DNR crews that sample the deer for CWD when he checks them in at the Country Store in Springfield.
“They’re great. They answer every question you have about CWD. They said there are more deer now in the CWD zone because so many have been killed for sampling that the does are having triplets.”
Cornachia speculates that hunting pressure is down in Hampshire County because of the regulation that makes it illegal to transport a whole deer carcass outside the county.
“Think about it. A guy who doesn’t have private land access or a place to take care of his deer has to find a tree, hang the deer, skin it and quarter it off the bones before he can leave. A lot of people won’t do that.”
Eighty-seven percent of the hunters surveyed said they eat just as much deer meat now as they did before CWD was confirmed in the county.
“I’m not a bit concerned about it,” Cornachia said. “I’ve never seen a sick deer where we hunt.”
Wildlife Biologist Chris Ryan said DNR will continue to sample deer in Hampshire County for CWD, but at a lesser rate.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has eliminated funding to states for CWD monitoring and control,” Ryan said. “We had been getting about $285,000 annually for that work.”
Sampling will likely take place at four checking stations on the first two days of the deer firearms season. In the past, the agency has collected samples at as many as 12 checking stations.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.