Québec is dealing with its first outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer. The discovery was made in a deer from a domestic herd on September 14 in an area north of the Ottawa River between Gatineau and Montreal. Federal and provincial food safety officials, and provincial wildlife officials began an immediate response to contain and eradicate the disease.
CWD attacks the central nervous system of deer. The animals become emaciated, disoriented, lose control of bodily functions, develop extreme thirst, and eventually die. Not all deer infected with CWD initially show symptoms, but all deer infected will inevitably succumb to it. CWD is only found in Cervidae or Cervids, the family of animals that deer and moose belong to. CWD has been found in other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions, including New York State.
Officials explained their response at a public meeting held last Thursday in the village of Grenville, Québec. Veterinary Officer Dr. El Mehdi Haddou of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said “It’s not proven that a human can contract the disease,” but said the herd was quarantined and the CFIA is committed to eliminating any risk of CWD-infected meat entering the food supply.
Similar remarks were made by Dr. Chief Veterinarian Dr. Hélène Trépanier of the Québec agriculture and food department. She said test samples are being taken from all deer killed in a specially designated area and public health authorities will be notified if necessary.
Biologist Donald Jean of the forests, wildlife, and parks department said, “Measures were put in place quickly to eradicate the presence of the illness,” and added the risk of CWD spreading in Québec is low. One of those measures includes a cull of all deer and a ban on hunting and trapping within a control area surrounding where the CWD case was found. In a zone surrounding the control area, any deer killed are to be taken to a series of temporary testing stations that have been set up.
According to wildlife protection officer Patrice Massé, a team of expert American shooters was hired to cull the deer and four enforcement agents were specially trained for assisting with the operation as well. The officers are approaching property owners and asking for their cooperation. The shooters are traveling to the sites and doing their work at night. Massé said since September 22, 45 deer were killed in the control zone and all tested negative for CWD.
It’s the deer cull and who is doing it that has some area residents upset. François Perrault questioned what kind of effects the culling of deer would have on the local deer population and the sustainability of hunting. Biologist Donald Jean said his department’s intervention is about reducing the risk of CWD spreading.
Harvey Young was quite angry with the government officials. He criticized the CFIA for not confirming the rumor about which farm the case of CWD was found on and blasted the hiring of an American team of sharpshooters to cull the deer in the control zone. The team is culling deer at night. They travel by truck through the forest, shining high-powered lights through the woods to attract deer. The practice is known as “jack-lighting” and is illegal for regular hunters do use. Young complained that the hired Americans are being allowed to do things local hunters would be charged for doing and questioned why local hunters were not asked instead.
The first outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease in Québec has happened at an especially challenging time. The rural area north of the Ottawa River is home to thousands of acres of forests and lakes. Hunting and trapping are very popular with residents and visitors alike. And with one month to go until deer hunting season, having hunting opportunities restricted or subject to extra scrutiny is difficult for many to adjust to.