Friday, May 09, 2008

WEST VIRGINIA NEWS: More CWD Appears in Hampshire County

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Hampshire County remains an enigma to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources in its campaign to track down and understand why Chronic Wasting Disease is haunting deer in that popular hunting region.

Now that 11 more deer the DNR killed this spring have tested positive, the mystery has only deepened.

All told, 31 deer now have been afflicted with the ailment, a fatal neurological disorder found in deer and elk. To date, the only affected deer have turned up in Hampshire — a fact that puzzles the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief, Paul Johansen.

“That’s the $64,000 question,” he said Thursday.

“I’ve stayed up nights pondering that question. Why did it show up? How did it get here? The reality is we may never know. I guess the important thing is to make sure we do engage our management plan to try to put in place appropriate management strategies to try to address the disease.”

While not harmful to humans, cattle or other domestic animals, CWD is a death sentence to any deer or elk that contracts it.

Some hunter-harvested deer tested positive last fall in Hampshire, but so far, not a single CWD-infected whitetail has been discovered outside that county.

“We’re pleased to see from a distribution standpoint, looking at the landscape, all of those positives were pretty tightly confined to that geographic area around Slanesville, where the original index animal was,” Johansen said.

“We did not pick up any additional positives in that Yellow Springs area.”

For the past few years, the DNR has performed a statewide surveillance program but hasn’t found any CWD outside a small pocket of Hampshire, he said.

In fact, the original index animal surfaced Sept. 2, 2005, as part of the DNR’s roadkill surveillance, Johansen pointed out.

Besides roadkill vigilance, the DNR looks for the disease in targeted areas, seeking out any animals that exhibit the clinical signs of it.

“We try to get our hands on those as well,” he said.

Scientists believe the disorder is caused by abnormal, proteinaceous particles known as prions engaged in a slow assault of the brain, causing deer and elk to progressively become emaciated, display bizarre behavior and invariably die.

DNR Director Frank Jezioro said in a statement from his office that “some of the best wildlife biologists and veterinarians in the world” are working on CWD, including those at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study in Athens, Ga.

“Landowner and hunter cooperation throughout this entire CWD surveillance effort in Hampshire County has been excellent,” he said.

“As we strive to meet this wildlife disease challenge and implement appropriate management strategies, the continued support and involvement of landowners and hunters will be essential.”


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

NEW YORK NEWS: Deer Sightings on Staten Island Continue to Rise

There will be no deer hunting on Staten Island. Not anytime soon, probably not ever.

But there are deer aplenty, and in growing numbers, on Staten Island, the closest thing New York City has to a suburban borough, browsing in people’s yards, drawing double-takes at highway interchanges, getting hit by cars. There are so many deer that the state decided it needed to study them and figure out what to do about them.

According to the study, released on Friday, there are at least 24 deer, concentrated on the western side of the island, including at least two fawns. It is enough to constitute an unusual pest-control challenge in the nation’s largest city.

“Deer are beautiful animals, and we love to see them in the wild,” Suzanne Mattei, the regional director for the State Department of Environmental Conservation, said at an outdoor news conference at the Greenbelt Nature Center in the island’s lushly wooded heart. “But when they come into urban areas, we have to manage them carefully.”

The proposals made in the study are modest ones: more deer-crossing signs (eight were installed along the West Shore Expressway last year at the urging of Assemblyman Michael Cusick), some fencing and a public-education campaign.

“We want Staten Islanders to be deer-savvy,” said the deputy borough president, Ed Burke.

Officials warn that in addition to endangering drivers, deer are host to the ticks that carry Lyme disease.

And if unchecked, the deer could put a serious dent in Staten Island’s greenery, which is already threatened by development, said Joseph Pane, the state biologist who conducted the survey by traipsing through the woods for most of January and February.

“They’ll eat everything within reach, to the point where you have nothing growing,” Mr. Pane said, as if describing an attack by 350-pound rats with antlers. “They go after things as soon as they sprout and you have no seed source.”

While the survey took in only a fraction of the island’s wooded areas, Ms. Mattei said the department felt that 24 deer counted represented most of the herd.

“At least now we have data,” she said. “We have something more than just, ‘Golly gee, I saw a deer.’ ”

Deer sightings began to be reported with some frequency on Staten Island around 2000. State officials say the deer swam across the Arthur Kill from New Jersey, decades after having been wiped out on the island.

But old-timers in the island’s rugged southwest corner say the deer never left. “There have always been deer on Staten Island,” said Cherryl Mitchell, who runs a stable called Richer Farm in Charleston, just north of the Outerbridge Crossing. “My husband is a native Staten Islander, he’s 66 years old, and he’s seen them since he was 6 years old.”

Mrs. Mitchell, 57, said that when she moved to Charleston in 1979, she would see deer tracks, but after a wave of construction nearby, she started to see deer. She said she had been spotting one deer, which she named Grandpa, recognizable by a distinctly crooked nostril, for 18 years.

Mrs. Mitchell said she had also seen men with bows and arrows hunting the deer in Clay Pit Ponds State Park, adjoining her property. Last year, the conservation department received a spate of complaints about hunters shooting at deer.

Hunting, whether with bow and arrow or firearm, is illegal in New York City, which is why a harvest is not among the management options the state is considering. And though deer have natural predators elsewhere in the state, there are no plans to introduce bears or coyotes to Staten Island either.

“I think it’s going to be challenging enough dealing with the coexistence of the deer and the people,” Ms. Mattei said.

The deer survey, which will become an annual event, was based on sightings called in by residents in January and February. The sighting log reads like a tour of the island’s back roads and parking lots.

“Three deer, gully behind Target near Englewood Ave.”

“1/27/2008, six deer, skating pavilion, Arthur Kill Road.”

The sightings were concentrated in four areas: near Howland Hook in the northwest corner of the island, near Clay Pit Ponds State Park, near Mount Loretto and Tottenville at the southern tip, and around the Greenbelt. Mr. Pane bundled up, took clipboard in hand and went on the prowl.

Friday afternoon, Mrs. Mitchell led a reporter on her own deer tour in the woods just beyond her riding ring. In five minutes, she pointed out the tracks of at least six deer: does with rounded hoofprints, bucks with big pointy prints the length of a man’s finger, fawns with little prints.

Mrs. Mitchell had little use for the state and its scientist-bureaucrats. But she said she agreed with the conclusions of the study.

“They need to just properly put some fences along the highways, put some signs up and leave them the hell alone,” she said.