This year's sample size was smaller than usual. A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, which had funded a sizable chunk of the state's CWD research, ran out in September. Crum said DNR officials had no choice but to cut back their sampling efforts.
"In past years, we had sampled 1,100 to 1,200 hunter-killed animals every year," he said. "It takes $30 to test each sample, and that doesn't include our expense in manning the game-checking stations and collecting the samples. It's expensive. Without that grant, we couldn't afford to run as many samples as we usually do."
The grant's expiration also affected the DNR's ability to collect additional samples in the spring.
"Usually we send out teams of sharpshooters and, with landowners' permission, shoot a number of additional deer for sampling. We won't be able to do that this year," Crum said.
The spring samples will be missed because they gave biologists an idea of how widely distributed the disease had become among females.
"Almost all of the hunter-killed samples were bucks, and to balance the sampling effort we had to go out and collect those samples for ourselves," Crum explained. "Without the grant, we can only afford to do that once every five years."
Even without the grant, though, Crum said DNR personnel would continue to collect samples from road-killed deer throughout the state, just as they have been doing since 2002, and just as they were doing when they found the first CWD case in 2005.
"We have to maintain that sampling to make sure [the disease] doesn't turn up somewhere else in the state," he said. "All of our district [wildlife biologists and game managers] have county quotas. They pick up road kills, take samples and get them tested. We plan to continue doing that so that if an animal tests positive, we can set up a containment area just as we've done in Hampshire and Hardy counties."