LITTLE ROCK — Two public meetings in August will give northeast Arkansans a chance to visit with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Wildlife Management and Research division staffers and other experts to discuss chronic wasting disease and its status in the neighboring states of Missouri and Tennessee.
Along with August meetings in Sharp and Mississippi counties, another public meeting with a similar focus is scheduled for Newton County in north Arkansas in early September to coincide with the Buffalo River Elk Festival in Jasper.
The public meetings are scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Aug. 10 at the A.L. Hutson Memorial Center, 1765 U.S. Highway 62/412 in Highland; 6-8 p.m. Aug. 24 at Osceola City Hall, 303 W. Hale Ave., in Osceola; and Sept. 4 at the Newton County Courthouse during Jasper’s annual elk festival, from 2-4 p.m. in the district courtroom, 100 E. Court St. Everyone is welcome to attend the meetings and ask questions.
Free CWD testing will be available again this year for hunters.“We encourage all to attend the three upcoming CWD public meetings,” Cory Gray, chief of the AGFC’s Research Division, said. “Although the disease has not been found in northeast Arkansas, we wish for Arkansans to be informed on the latest findings directly across the state lines and how they can aid the AGFC through providing samples and increased awareness.
“The meeting in Highland will include the latest information on CWD in Missouri, and the meeting in Osceola will update everyone on the disease in western Tennessee. As far as the Jasper meeting, AGFC wanted to partner with the elk festival to hold a public meeting and return to the initial location where CWD was identified in Arkansas.”
Gray said the AGFC has invited staff from the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to present CWD status updates in their respective states to give audiences an awareness of the disease status near Arkansas’s borders. The agency is hoping this information and additional discussion from its staff will help private landowners and deer hunters understand the critical role they play in helping manage the disease.
As of April 2021, Missouri has reported 206 cases of CWD since its first case in free-ranging deer was found in 2012. Of the 44 new cases of CWD found in 2020-21, one was detected in Stone County, which borders Arkansas and is west of Branson. CWD-positive samples also have been identified north of Thayer, in Oregon County, Missouri.
In Tennessee, positive CWD cases have been reported in Shelby, Tipton and Lauderdale counties, which border the Mississippi River with Arkansas on the other side. Tennessee’s hottest spot has been centered over Fayette and Hardeman counties, immediately east of Shelby (which includes the Greater Memphis area). Tennessee began an enhanced CWD Surveillance Program in 2018.
“We are anticipating the meeting format to be similar to those in the past,” Gray said, referring to public meetings the AGFC has staged around the state to discuss CWD since its discovery in 2016. “We’ll have a combination of presentations and then moderated discussion with the audience and a panel of experts.”
AGFC staff typically make presentations on Saturday afternoon of the Buffalo River Elk Festival in the Jasper courthouse, and Gray said the agency would use one of the time slots as an opportunity to update festival attendees on the status of CWD in Arkansas, with significant focus on Newton County.white-tailed deer
The AGFC’s Research Division this year embarked on the largest study in the agency’s history: a 5-year, $4 million project to learn about the potential population impact of CWD on whitetails along the Buffalo River in Newton and Searcy counties. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Restoration Program funds will cover the cost, and researchers from the University of Georgia are leading the study.
CWD, which first appeared in Colorado in 1967, was initially detected in Arkansas’s deer and elk in Newton County in 2016. The AGFC’s CWD management zone now includes 22 counties across the northwest and northern portions of the state, with Independence County being the furthest county east to have a positive test for CWD. A total of 1,081 deer and 32 elk have tested positive for deer in Arkansas since the first case in 2016.