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Chronic Wasting Disease is spreading across North America. Provided/S.C. Department of Natural Resources

Hunting enthusiasts in South Carolina begin getting antsy when August arrives because they know deer season is at hand. The season, which has already opened in some sections of the state, continues through Jan. 1.

And biologists with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources want to ensure that hunters in the Palmetto State continue to enjoy lengthy and productive deer hunting. Which is why we annually are reminded that we don't want Chronic Wasting Disease to make its way into our deer herd.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brain in infected animals, resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death. While CWD doesn't affect humans, it could turn South Carolina's deer hunting upside down if it made its way into our herd.

CWD has been diagnosed in the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming. It also has been found in three Canadian provinces.

Charles Ruth, Big Game Coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said it would be naive to think South Carolina is immune but we are in "somewhat of a unique and enviable position for several reasons."

"The first reason, and this is the big one, is that our state has always been a closed door state to commercial movement of deer," Ruth said, noting that there is no captive cervid industry which artificially breeds deer in order to produce larger animals with larger antlers. And the closed door policy means deer cannot be legally imported into the state, which is the likely method of transport of CWD.

"That's really important because there seems to be a pretty good relationship between commercial movement of deer and the appearance of this disease. There's not a live animal test for this disease. Any time you move an animal of any sort, you're moving a biological package."

Ruth said South Carolina also is in a good position geographically. The closest focal areas are on the Mississippi River on Tennessee's western border and an area near Washington, D.C., where the borders of Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland come together.

The big fear for CWD making its way to South Carolina is Palmetto State hunters making trips to states where CWD is found and then bringing back carcass parts which could infect our state.

Hunters traveling to states with confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease may only bring the following carcass parts into South Carolina:

• Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached

• Meat that has been boned out

• Hides with no heads attached

• Clean skulls (no meat or tissue attached) or clean skull plates with antlers attached

• Antlers (detached from the skull plate)

• Clean upper canine teeth of elk, also called "buglers," "whistlers" or "ivories"

• Finished taxidermy heads

"Science clearly shows that the improper disposal of certain carcass parts – specifically the brains, the spinal cord and neurological tissue – can contaminate the environment such that local deer may later pick it up," Ruth said.

"The bottom line is, if you bring a CWD-positive deer head or elk head from out west and dispose of parts of it in your back yard or on your hunt club, there's an outside chance you may have contaminated the environment with that disease agent such that South Carolina deer could pick it up.

"What all of this is at this point now is trying to manage risks," Ruth continued. "Those risks at the top of the list are the illegal movement of live deer into the state. And the movement of those carcass parts and improper disposal into the state."

Another risk factor that was addressed last year was "the use of natural cervid (deer) urine products.

"Doe tea is what I call it. If you look at these urine products, these buck lures, they're made on deer farms. Many of these deer farms are in states that have Chronic Wasting Disease."

Ruth said the product is being bottled and shipped across the country with hunters dispersing the urine, which could have the CWD agent, in the woods which could lead to possible environmental contamination.

Ruth said SCDNR is participating in a research project with Cornell University for risk assessment and surveillance strategy.

"SCDNR is trying to stay on top of this," Ruth said. "Again, the bottom line is we're trying to manage risks in various ways the disease can show up in South Carolina."

Duck Calling Contest rescheduled

The 2020 S.C. State Duck Calling Contest has been rescheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 4 at Cooks Mountain in Wateree Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area, located off U.S. Highway 378 between Columbia and Sumter. It originally had been scheduled to be held in March during the Palmetto Sportsmen's Classic but was postponed because of the coronavirus.

The state Duck Calling Contest is open to callers 17 or older as of the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2020. The winner of this contest earns the right to compete in the World Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart, Ark., in November.

The Junior contest is open to callers age 17 and under as of the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2020.

The Champion of Champions competition is open only to past South Carolina state winners.

For information, contact Jesse Tucker at 864-706-2545 or Marc Ackerman at 843-708-8869.

America's Boating Club

America’s Boating Club Charleston will offer a safe boating class for all ages from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sept. 26. Successful participants earn the S.C. Department of Natural Resources Boater Education Card. The cost is $25 for adults with youngsters 12-18 free. The class is not recommended for children under 12. Bring a bag lunch.

In addition, the club also has two-hour seminars on Rules of the Road scheduled Sept. 1 and Emergencies on Board on Sept. 29.

All classes will be held at 1376 Orange Grove Road, Charleston. To register call 843-312-2876 or email lynes@tds.net.