Chronic wasting disease

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff check an elk for chronic wasting disease in 2017.

BEND — Spritzing urine from a doe in heat on the forest floor is an old hunter’s trick for luring a buck. But starting Jan. 1, Oregon hunters will no longer be allowed to employ the practice, the latest attempt by state officials to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, which is killing elk and deer in large numbers in the U.S. and Canada.

House Bill 2294, passed this year by the Oregon Legislature, bans the possession and use of scent lures that contain urine produced by deer, elk and other members of the cervid family. While the lures can still be used during the autumn hunting season, stores across Oregon are phasing them off shelves.

Chronic wasting disease has not been detected in Oregon but has been seen in more than 20 states and in Canada. The disease is spread by nose-to-nose contact between cervid animals and through urine, feces, blood and saliva.

Once an animal is infected it goes through behavioral changes, followed by weight loss, weakness, stumbling and death.

The disease was first identified in Colorado in 1967 and has marched steadily through the Rocky Mountain states, the Midwest and as far east as New York. It has also been found in Norway, Finland and South Korea. The disease is caused by malfunctioning proteins called prions.

There is no evidence humans can contract chronic wasting disease, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife advises people not to eat infected animals. Studies suggest the disease poses a risk to nonhuman primates that eat meat from infected animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“(Chronic wasting disease) is one of the most concerning diseases for wildlife biologists because once it gets into the free range it can’t be stopped or treated,” said Michelle Dennehy, an ODFW spokeswoman. “If we have early detection we have a better chance to stop it. We want to prevent it from getting here in the first place.”

Oregon hunters traveling out of state are prohibited from bringing home the parts of the animal known to harbor the disease, including eyes, brains, spinal columns, lymph nodes, tonsils and spleens. Any illegal animal part brought into Oregon will be confiscated and the responsible party will be charged for the cost of incineration, according to the department.

New rules also apply to roadkill in Oregon. Drivers are permitted to salvage the remains of deer or elk, but they must also surrender the antlers and head to ODFW within five days. The heads are tested for chronic wasting disease.

The ban will only affect a small portion of Oregon hunters as the scents are used primarily when hunting white-tail deer during the rutting season, said Karl Findling, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association.

“Archers that hunt elk may be affected, but they make up a very small number of hunters in Oregon,” Findling said. “Hunting white-tail deer in rut is primarily a Midwest or East Coast phenomenon. There are not many white-tail deer in Oregon, and when they are hunted it’s not when they are in rut.”

Roadside sampling stations will test deer and elk for the disease in Central and Eastern Oregon. The stations will be set up at Interstate 84 west of Biggs Junction and the Prineville weigh station just east of Prineville on U.S. Highway 26. Opening times for the stations are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 29-30 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 3-4. The Prineville station will also be open Sept. 28 in the afternoon.

Hunters or businesses, who already have these cervid urine-scented products in their possession, are asked not to pour them on the ground or down the drain. Instead, the products can be brought to a local ODFW district office for safe disposal. The scents will be collected and incinerated in an 1,800-degree oven, a temperature known to destroy the protein that causes the disease.

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