Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD as it’s more commonly called, has most recently been detected in Mississippi. This is the closest the fatal deer disease has been to our Florida border.

"We’re fortunate that CWD has not been found in Florida or our immediate neighboring states, but it’s going to take the help of hunters to keep it that way," Cory Morea, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Deer Management Program coordinator, said. "Anyone planning to hunt deer, moose or elk out of state needs to be aware of certain laws and regulations aimed at preventing CWD from coming into our state." 

CWD is a transmissible disease caused by an abnormal protein called a prion. It affects the brains of infected, eventually causing them to become emaciated, display unusual behavior and die.

"While there’s no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans or livestock, the impacts of this disease can have a significant negative impact on deer populations and our traditional hunting activities," Morea said.

Transmission occurs by direct contact with infected deer or by consuming prions that have been deposited into the environment. Once present, prion stays in the soil and can remain infectious for years.

To date, CWD has been found in mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose and elk in these 25 states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. It also has been detected in Canada (Saskatchewan and Alberta), Norway, Finland and in South Korea.

Rules for out-of-state hunting

Hunters are prohibited from bringing into Florida whole carcasses of any cervid from any of the above listed CWD-positive states or countries. From these areas, hunters can only bring back deboned meat, finished taxidermy mounts, cleaned skulls, antlers and hides – as long as all soft tissue (meat) has been removed.

The importation of live deer into Florida is also prohibited. The public is encouraged to report any possible violations to the FWC by calling the Wildlife Alert Hotline, toll-free, 888-404-FWCC (3922).

How to help

Another way to help is by reporting deer that are sick or found dead from unknown causes to FWC’s toll-free hotline, 866-293-9282. Warning signs that hunters can look out for while in the field include deer that are extremely thin or appear sick, or those exhibiting odd behavior such as staggering, walking in circles, standing with a wide stance or head tremors. Do not handle the deer. The FWC will collect the whole carcass and conduct an examination.

To learn more about CWD, visit MyFWC.com/CWD. 

Tony Young is a columnist for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.