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Mixed bag on CWD

When chronic wasting disease was found in Hampshire County deer in 2005, wildlife officials worried that hunters might go elsewhere.

Their concerns, as it turned out, were unfounded.

A survey conducted by a Harrisonburg, Va., pollster showed that some sportsmen indeed switched to different hunting grounds, but the vast majority stayed put.

The survey, conducted last September and October, targeted hunters who had killed deer in Hampshire County after 2003. Only 10 percent of the respondents said they decided to hunt elsewhere after CWD was discovered.

What's more, only 10 percent of those who had stopped hunting in Hampshire did so because of CWD. In fact, CWD ranked fourth on the list of reasons. The top reasons were age and health (24 percent), other obligations (20 percent) and low deer populations (16 percent).

At first glance, those results might lead one to believe that CWD doesn't scare hunters much at all. Other poll results tell a different story.

Slightly more than half the sportsmen expressed moderate to extreme concern about the disease's presence. The main worries were that the disease might spread to other counties, that it might become more prevalent within the county, and that deer deaths from CWD would eventually affect deer hunting.

Some of the more interesting findings dealt with the Division of Natural Resources' efforts to keep the disease in check.

A large majority (80 percent) believes that DNR officials are doing everything they can to manage CWD within the county. Seventy-three percent believe the DNR's management plan is based on the best available science. Fifty-eight percent believe DNR officials have not overreacted to the problem.

But when questioned about specific DNR rules put into effect to contain the disease, hunters seemed more critical.

For example, only 47 percent of respondents said they agreed with the DNR's ban on baiting and feeding within the county. Forty-four percent disagreed.

They were similarly split when asked if the DNR's efforts to thin the Hampshire deer herd would stop the disease's spread. Forty-eight percent said yes, 40 percent said no.

One DNR rule did enjoy broad support; most hunters agreed with the agency's restrictions on transporting Hampshire-killed deer outside the county. Sixty-four percent believe it helps prevent CWD from spreading, while just 27 percent believe it does not.

DNR officials also got high marks for their ongoing efforts to collect tissue samples from dead deer and test them for prions, the rogue proteins that cause the disease.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents rated the DNR's testing program as "excellent" or "good." Only 4 percent gave it a poor rating.

Moreover, one in five hunters indicated that the testing program makes them more confident that the deer they kill will be disease-free.

When asked what they would do if DNR biologists stop taking samples, 20 percent said they would hunt elsewhere; 27 percent said they'd still hunt in the area, but would hunt less; 29 percent said they would kill fewer deer in Hampshire; and 16 percent said they'd stop hunting deer altogether.

When asked about eating deer from the county, only 10 percent said they eat less deer since CWD was found. At the same time, though, 24 percent said they would hunt within five miles of a site that had known CWD-infected deer.

The bottom line? Hunters still seem to want to hunt in Hampshire County. They respect what the DNR is doing in there, but they have problems with some of the agency's policies.


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