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Import of deer, elk parts in S.C. still limited by state regulation August 25, 2017

by Charles Ruth, SCDNR Big Game Program Coordinator

Hunters traveling abroad are reminded not to import into South Carolina certain carcass parts from deer and elk harvested in states with chronic wasting disease.

Hunters traveling abroad are reminded not to import into South Carolina certain carcass parts from deer and elk harvested in states with chronic wasting disease.

With big game seasons opening in many Western states, hunters traveling abroad are reminded not to import into South Carolina certain carcass parts from deer and elk harvested in states with chronic wasting disease.

To protect the state's extremely valuable white-tailed deer resource, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) continues to maintain a regulation restricting the importation of certain carcass parts from deer and elk harvested in states with diagnosed cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD). Currently, deer hunting generates more than $200 million annually for South Carolina's economy and deer are the most-sought game species in the state, in addition to being the official state game animal.

This measure was taken so resident hunters who travel to other states to hunt will not bring potentially diseased carcass parts to South Carolina. The regulation will not keep hunters from importing harvested game since most game taken outside of South Carolina is processed in the state where it was harvested.

Chronic wasting disease is one in the family of transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and is similar to mad cow disease. The disease attacks the central nervous system of the deer or elk and presents symptoms including extreme weight loss, excessive salivation, odd behavior and poor coordination. The disease is infectious, communicable and always fatal to deer and elk, but perhaps the biggest stumbling blocks for wildlife professionals is that chronic wasting disease has a prolonged incubation period-up to five years-and no approved test exists to detect the disease in live animals. Diagnosis requires examination of the brain. Although wildlife health officials are conducting considerable research, the overall biological and epidemiological understanding of chronic wasting disease remains poor.

According to the state regulation, hunters traveling to states with confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease should only bring the following carcass parts into South Carolina: Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached; Meat that has been boned out; hides with no heads attached; clean (no meat or tissue attached) skulls or skull plates with antlers attached; antlers (detached from the skull plate); clean upper canine teeth, also called "buglers," "whistlers" or "ivories;" and finished taxidermy heads.

Hunters should not import whole carcasses or parts of deer or elk that contain nervous tissue like the brain or spinal column. Hunters traveling elsewhere should check with the wildlife agency in their destination state to determine its CWD status and to determine what restrictions the state may have on the movement of carcasses. States where CWD has been diagnosed include Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

SCDNR is asking resident hunters who travel to other states, to follow these restrictions when bringing certain carcass parts into South Carolina. Good evidence exists that the CWD agent can remain viable in the environment, in the soil for example. This has been demonstrated at research facilities where the disease was present in deer or elk. The diseased animals were removed, and the facilities underwent complete disinfecting and no animals were present for an extended period of time. Once animals were returned to the facility, they became infected with CWD. This is precisely the reason that SCDNR is asking hunters not to bring certain parts of carcasses to South Carolina when they hunt in states where CWD has been diagnosed. If hunters dispose of these carcass parts in South Carolina then the disease agent may infect deer in the local area.

SCDNR is following the lead of a most states in letting hunters know how they can help fight the spread of CWD. Chronic wasting disease represents a very significant threat to North America's deer and elk populations, and it may be the most notable wildlife disease situation the country has ever face. SCDNR has conducting surveillance for CWD in South Carolina since 1998. To date, the disease has not been documented in South Carolina or any other Southeastern state in the vicinity of South Carolina. Surveillance since 2002 has included samples from all 46 South Carolina counties and over 6,000 total deer have been tested.

South Carolina's white-tailed deer population currently has limited risk from chronic wasting disease partly due to steps that SCDNR and the S.C. General Assembly took years ago in limiting and strictly regulating the importation of live deer, elk and other cervids. There is evidence that movements of live cervids for commercial purposes may have impacted the current CWD situation as many cases have been linked to captive animals. This is an important point, because states vary with respect to allowing cervids to be transported for commercial purposes.

SCDNR has been criticized in the past for not being more liberal in supporting or allowing deer farming or high fenced "shooter buck" operations that depend on moving animals into the state. However, since CWD has become a concern, a growing list of states have discontinued allowing deer to be imported for any purpose.

For more information on chronic wasting disease, visit Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

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