The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife today amended an emergency temporary rule dealing with the importation of deer and elk carcasses into Oregon. That rule, which had been in response to concerns about the potential spread of chronic wasting disease into Oregon's captive and wild herds of deer and elk, banned the import of hunter-harvested deer and elk carcasses, except for boned out, processed or quartered meat, hides and skull plates that had no part of the spinal column or brain attached, or finished taxidermy heads. It also banned the import of all live cervids except reindeer.
However, the rule brought with it unintended consequences for meat processing plants and taxidermists in Oregon. Many hunters from surrounding states frequently bring carcasses to Oregon to be processed. In addition, hunters bring deer or elk heads to Oregon taxidermists for mounting. The emergency rule's ban on importing cervid carcasses and heads created an unintended financial hardship for many processing plants and taxidermists. The ban also interfered with the ability of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's animal forensic lab in Ashland to receive deer and elk carcasses from other states for analysis and investigation.
The amendment to the rule, which takes effect today, allows Oregon's meat processing facilities and taxidermists to legally receive, process and return deer and elk carcasses from states that have not been identified as having chronic wasting disease. Those states include Washington, Idaho and California. The ban on importation of parts remains in place for deer and elk from those states and provinces that have been identified as having chronic wasting disease in captive and/or wild deer and elk populations. CWD is found in free-ranging and/or captive mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk in Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The amended rule also allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to receive carcasses from any state for purposes of analysis and investigation.
State wildlife biologists will continue efforts to sample Oregon's wild herds for CWD. The new samples will add to the more than 200 samples already collected. All samples tested between 1997 and 2001 found no evidence of the disease agent in the state's captive or wild herds of deer and elk.
Results of all the deer and elk tissue samples collected this fall are expected to be available in mid to late spring 2003, and will be publicized.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking hunters to help with this effort by allowing field biologists visiting hunting camps to collect a thumb-sized sample of the animal's lower brain tissue, called the obex. The sample collection will not harm taxidermy mounts or game meat processing.
"District biologists received lots of support from deer hunters," said Don Whittaker, ODFW Wildlife Division big game biologist. "They are receptive and want to help."
ODFW hopes to send 500 preserved samples in December from deer and elk harvested by hunters throughout Oregon this fall to the National Disease Health Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The samples will be tested for the presence of an abnormal protein that causes CWD. The procedure, which is extremely accurate, tests for the presence of the protein by adding a chemical to a thin slice of the sample tissue. The chemical stains any CWD agents, called prions, a specific color when viewed under a microscope. The obex tissue is used because researchers have found it is where prions initially become established.