LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) -Arkansas hunters are working to help the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission gather data on a disease affecting the deer population.
Deer hunters across the state have voluntarily provided over 5,300 samples of deer to the AGFC.
This helps the organization monitor the distribution of chronic waste disease across the state.
Wildlife Health Biologist for AGFC’s Research, Evaluation and Compliance Division AJ Riggs said these samples have made all the difference.
"This is a huge increase over samples collected by this time during last year's deer season," Riggs said. "For comparison, this same period for 2017, a total of 2,607 hunter harvested samples were collected."
Riggs said all testing is voluntary and free in the majority of cases.
"If a person takes their deer to one of our cooperating veterinarians, they may charge a fee for their time," Riggs said. "But all of the other options for testing, which have received 99 percent of our samples, are totally free to hunters. It's important that we're offering this service to people who want to be sure about the deer's status before taking it to a processor."
In 2017, the AGFC operated 17 temporary CWD sample stations on opening weekend, which garnered 459 samples to help investigate the prevalence and spread of the disease.
This year only five such sites were manned by AGFC personnel.
Each were in areas which recently had been added to the agency's CWD Management Zone. "We felt the amount of manpower used to staff those stations could be better used to gather samples through a different method," Riggs said. "But it was important to have a place for staff to be able to talk one-on-one with hunters who arrived to turn in a sample or ask questions. That's why we continued the stations in a few areas that recently were added to the CWD Management Zone. Our staff has really come together to communicate with the public and gather samples through every means possible."
A number of samples collected this year have also come through the agency's new system of unmanned CWD testing drop-off containers placed throughout the state. "Staff are operating 44 freezers, mostly located inside the CWD Management Zone, but we do have locations throughout the state," Riggs said. "We worked through the offseason to create partnerships with local municipalities to provide freezers where hunters could drop off samples throughout deer season, many of which are available 24 hours a day."
The freezers are regularly monitored to prevent any vandalism or theft.
State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Jenn Ballard said she’s thrilled with the response they’ve received.
"It's been incredible," Ballard said. "People are using the freezers and we've received a lot of great responses from hunters about the convenience."
Ballard said she hopes the AGFC can add additional drop-off containers in the next year to cover even more areas of the state.
"We have pretty well saturated the CWD Management Zone with drop-off locations," Ballard said. "But we have already added four additional freezers this year." Ballard said the added drop-off locations came after a recent positive case of CWD appeared in Oregon County, Missouri, northeast of Arkansas's CWD Management Zone. "Dallas Harrell, one of the local AGFC biologists, worked with agencies in Fulton, Sharp and Randolph counties,” Ballard said. “To establish four new sites for freezers and we're trying to get the word out about those locations to hunters."
As of Nov. 30, 155 new cases of CWD have been detected in the Arkansas.
This is consistent with previous year’s results if the increased volume of samples is taken into consideration.
One positive case of CWD came from an elk that was targeted because it showed signs of CWD, but no elk taken during this year's elk hunts tested positive for the disease. Results of the CWD tests can take two to three weeks to process.
As results are collected, they are listed on the AGFC's website in a secure location and may be viewed by the person who submitted the sample. "If a positive case of CWD is found in a new county and confirmed, we will issue a press release, but we've been fortunate so far this year," Ballard said.
With almost a month of the firearms deer season and two additional months of archery season left, new samples are still coming in on a daily basis.
Click here for a full list of available CWD testing options or to check your results.