By MIKE CORN
Lloyd Fox has long urged deer hunters to avoid the reckless dumping of deer carcasses, all part of an effort to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease.
A new study confirms what Fox, the state's deer guru for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, has been saying all along. That study found the misshapen proteins -- prions -- responsible for CWD might be spread in the feces of animals as much as a year before they show clinical signs of the disease.
A brain-wasting and always-fatal disease, CWD has made inroads into Kansas, having been found in Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur and Graham counties.
Its spread to the southeast, Fox has said all along will be slow, but consistent -- provided it is not helped along by hunters who kill an infected deer in one location, transports the animal out of the area and then carelessly dumps the carcass after it has been cleaned.
In the CWD study, researchers found the prions remained in the soil. The prions and growing plants can then be eaten by other animals, which then become infected.
"We knew the prions had to come out one end or the other," Fox said.
It's just as likely, he said, that as the science of CWD matures and ever-smaller particles can be detected, that the prions will be found in the saliva of infected deer.
What wasn't known, however, is that the prions are shed before the animals start showing clinical signs of the disease.
That's why it's important, Fox said, for hunters to properly dispose of deer carcasses. It's best, he said, that hunters bury the carcasses or dispose of them in a landfill. Deer are then unable to get to the prions and the spread of the disease can be slowed.
What effect the new study will have on either baiting or feeding of deer is uncertain, but Fox said there are no KDWP-sponsored measures pending that would ban either.
Fox, however, said the feeding of deer should always be on the minds of wildlife biologists.
"There's certainly more people today putting food out for deer," he said, "specifically to detain and hold deer, than at anytime we've had in the past in the state.
"These practices should be discouraged by conservationists."
How best to do that, he said, is the $64,000 question.
"The question is what will people support?" Fox said.