Officials say Nebraska deer disease could pose threat in South Dakota

February 4, 2002 The Associated Press
A fatal brain disorder that has infected deer in Nebraska poses concerns for wildlife in South Dakota, the head of the state Game, Fish and Parks Department said.

Chronic wasting disease has been confirmed in five white-tailed deer and one mule deer in Sioux County in northwest Nebraska. Another 60 deer from Sioux County have been tested, but results aren't available yet. The main area of concern is 20 miles from the South Dakota border in Fall River County.

"That's not very far away, so we're watching it very closely," said John Cooper, secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department in Pierre. "Does that scare me? Yes, sir, it scares me."

Cooper is part of a working group that includes wildlife specialists from Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, where chronic wasting disease has been documented.

Chronic wasting disease is a contagious, fatal brain disease that affects cervids, a family of animals that includes deer and elk. Both wasting disease and mad cow disease are in a family of disorders known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.

Mad cow disease has decimated the beef industry in 13 European countries and is thought to have caused the deaths of 100 people who ate tainted meat.

Although chronic wasting disease has been found in captive elk herds in the past, captive elk and deer herds in South Dakota were declared free of chronic wasting disease earlier this year.

Since the diagnosis in Nebraska, the state has stepped up its monitoring of the area near Sioux County. Officials also are discussing possible action to keep the disease from spreading.

That could include more intensive sport hunting or shooting by wildlife officials.

Cooper said both the wild population of deer in Nebraska and the captive elk herds in Nebraska and South Dakota are at risk.

"I see both that Nebraska population of deer and the captive elk herds as a threat," he said. "Everything I've seen indicates that if this disease doesn't start in a captive elk herd, it's an area where it incubates.

"That's exactly the thing that scares wildlife managers. And all you need is one person in that business who ignores the rules."

Kenny Weise of Twin Brooks, chairman of the South Dakota Elk Breeders Association, doesn't think that is likely to happen. The state's regulations are strong, and Holland is enforcing them effectively, he said.

"He's better qualified to deal with this issue than wildlife biologists from Game, Fish and Parks," Weise said. "Right now, we've had three full years of monitoring the captive herds in South Dakota with no problems."

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