By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

OAKLEY -- Outdoor enthusiast Paul Babcock listened patiently as Shane Hesting went on about the perils of chronic wasting disease in Kansas deer, a threat that includes the specter of outright extinction.

When Hesting finished, Babcock was quick to stand up and suggest that the time had arrived for the state to ban baiting of deer by hunters.

"To me, it's another way the disease will spread," Babcock said. "I think we owe it to our deer herd."

In his presentation last week before the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission, Hesting told of how 10 confirmed cases of CWD had been found in Kansas last year.

"It's in my backyard," Babcock said of Sheridan County where he lives. "And I did find one of the deer that tested positive."

Commission Chairman Kelly W. Johnston, Wichita, acknowledged that the issue has been discussed before. He asked deer coordinator Lloyd Fox about what other states do.

"More than half the states allow baiting," Fox said.

While Johnston said he'd like to see some cause-and-effect studies on if CWD can be spread when deer congregate a map shown by Hesting, clearly showed that CWD discoveries have been concentrated.

"I'm not sure eliminating baiting is going to solve the problem," he said, suggesting that it's an issue that biologists with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks need to weigh in on.

However, neither Johnston nor any of the other commissioners asked for that to take place.

Babcock said he's convinced that a majority of the hunters he's talked to would support such a ban, but he also didn't expect to see any action by the commission.

"I spoke my piece," he said.

In his presentation, Hesting, KDWP's wildlife disease coordinator, told of how CWD had spread in Kansas, up from the first free-ranging deer found to have the disease in 2005 in Cheyenne County. Last year, three deer were found in Decatur County. This year, 10 cases were confirmed.

"We've got to do what we can do to slow it down," he said.

Studies have shown that CWD will change the population dynamics of the state's deer herd, shifting toward a younger population. That likely will mean a drop in the number of trophy deer taken in the state.

"There's a few papers out there that point to extinction," he noted. "That could be 100 years from now."

Bottom line, a lot still isn't known about CWD, an always-fatal, brain-wasting disease similar to mad cow.

Hesting is new to the position, and noted he's not a veterinarian but a grant-coordinator instead.

"The endemic area is the northwest part of the state," he said.

There, Hesting said, 397 samples were taken from eight counties. Statewide, nearly 2,700 samples were taken, paid for through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"All of the positives were white-tailed" deer, he said. "We haven't had a mule deer yet."

One of the 10 positives came from a road-killed deer, while three others came before rifle season.

While not conclusive, Hesting suggested that might mean the animals were less wary of people -- one of the symptoms as the disease progresses.

But to be sure, he said, none of the deer that tested positive were showing clinical signs of the disease. Those symptoms typically only show up in older deer, those more than 3 years old or older.

In other activity, the commission:

* Learned from wildlife biologist Helen Hands that federal frameworks will now allow for a 70-day mourning dove season, 10 days more than has the season has been traditionally. The daily bag limit, however, will remain unchanged at 15 doves.

Despite that, more than half of the hunting and fully 60 percent of the harvest takes place during the first week of the season.

* Set 2009 big game season dates..

Primary deer seasons are archery, Sept. 21 through Dec. 31; regular firearms will be Dec. 2 through Dec. 13; and muzzleloader-only season will be Sept. 21 through Oct. 4. Various youth, urban, extended anterless-only seasons also were set.

For antelope hunting, archery season will be Sept. 19 to 27 and Oct. 10 to 31; muzzleloader-only will be Sept. 28 to Oct. 5; and firearms will be Oct. 2 to 5.