TWRA monitoring chronic wasting disease in deer

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 3/17/19

Mími Barnes can sometimes be seen tracking mountain lions out West or perched inside a cave just as thousands of bats emerge to ascend into the night to feast on countless insects that routinely …

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TWRA monitoring chronic wasting disease in deer

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Mími Barnes can sometimes be seen tracking mountain lions out West or perched inside a cave just as thousands of bats emerge to ascend into the night to feast on countless insects that routinely cloud the summer night.

Those are the adventures one has when embarking on a career that centers on a love of animals.

Barnes, who is a wildlife information specialist for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s region 3, told members of the Rotary Club of Cleveland that working for the agency is a “dream job.’

“I love wildlife,” said Barnes, who graduated from Boston’s Lesley University with a degree in ecology.

Barnes' territory covers 24 counties in Tennessee, including Bradley and Hamilton. Her office is based in Crossville.

“I’m on the road a lot,” Barnes said. When she's not testing bats for white-nose syndrome or tracking the spread of chronic wasting disease in deer, Barnes may also be talking with Tennessee residents who call to inform here of wildlife sitings.

In addition to tracking and observing wildlife in Tennessee, or for fun in other states, Barnes said she sometimes also answers questions from callers inquiring about a coyote they saw in their yard or a raccoon that was seen during daylight.

Although fish and game play a large part in the agency’s wildlife management area, Barnes also said it devotes vast resources to managing other officially designated areas that range from 53 acres up to 625,000 acres across the Volunteer State. She said there are 30 wildlife management areas in Region 3.

“Fourteen percent of the total land mass is public, while 86 percent is privately owned,” Barnes said, adding that about 10 percent of publicly owned land is actively managed by the agency. 

She said the public land in Tennessee is home to animals ranging from the pygmy shrew to the black bear.

“We are tasked with taking care all of those animals,” Barnes said.

Managing those lands can be challenging. 

For example, Barnes said a recent effort to bolster quail populations, who prefer grassy meadows, was met with concern by state residents when the agency cut down trees to facilitate the type of habitat they prefer. In contrast, Barnes said cerulean warblers thrive in dense, old-growth forest.

It is definitely a balancing act.

However, she said Tennessee has made great strides in increasing native animal populations.

“At one time there were only 350 deer left in Tennessee,” Barnes said. Today, there are 1 million,” though part of that is because the population of natural predators of deer has dropped dramatically.

And as wildlife management personnel work to maintain or grow native populations of Tennessee wildlife, they are also fighting invasive species such as feral pigs, which can damage crops.

Climate change is also causing armadillos to migrate farther north into Tennessee, Barnes said. While their presence in the state is unusual for an animal native to warmer regions of the United States, armadillos have yet to gain a foothold in the region.

“There have been transients into the state, but there have been no reproducers,” Barnes said.

The TWRA also monitors and tests deer populations for the presence of chronic wasting disease – a contagious, chronic disease of the nervous system. While there are no reports of humans contacting the disease, the TWRA advises hunters to take precautions while 

According to the TWRA, “CWD is a slowly progressing disease; signs typically are not seen until the animal is 12-18 months old and may take as long as three years or more. CWD attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose bodily functions, become weak and eventually die. Signs include excessive salivation, loss of appetite, weight loss, excessive thirst and urination, listlessness, teeth grinding, lowering of the head and drooping ears.”

The TWRA advises that hunters:

•Avoid sick animals. Do not handle, or consume any animal that appears sick, and contact your wildlife agency.

•Wear rubber/latex gloves when field dressing carcasses.

•Minimize handling the brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of any deer or elk. Normal field dressing coupled with boning out a carcass will remove most, if not all, of these body parts.

•Thoroughly wash hands, knives and other tools used to field dress the animal. Disinfect tools by soaking them in a solution of 50 percent unscented household bleach and 50 percent water for an hour. Allow them to air dry.

•Bones and unprocessed remains should be disposed of through burial, landfill or incineration.

•Do not consume meat from deer that have tested positive for CWD.

The TWRA has established a CWD management zone in Fayette, Hardeman and McNairy counties in west Tennessee, where a number of deer have tested positive for CWD.

"During this extended season, hunters will be required to bring in all animals harvested to check stations for testing on weekends and encouraged to drop off samples at freezer locations during the week (all locations listed at CWDinTennessee.com)," The TWRA advises. "This extra testing will allow TWRA to better determine exactly where this disease is and better understand it."

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