Ottawa

Hunters studying up on deadly deer disease after 3 cases confirmed in Quebec

Hunting groups are working to make sure hunters know about deadly chronic wasting disease (CWD) now that there have been three confirmed cases of CWD in deer just over the border in Quebec.

Chronic wasting disease is fatal for deer, elk, moose and caribou

The Quality Deer Management Association hosted an information session Oct. 28 in Embrun, east of Ottawa, to inform hunters about chronic wasting disease. (CBC )

Hunting groups are working to make sure hunters know about deadly chronic wasting disease (CWD) now that there have been three confirmed cases in deer in Quebec.  

Chronic wasting disease is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system that affects deer, elk, moose and caribou.

The recent cases confirmed in Quebec, just 15 kilometres from the Ontario border on a farm in the Laurentians, have lead to a massive deer cull in that province.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed a second case earlier this month and the most recent happened on Oct. 25.

There have been no cases in Ontario.

The Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) hosted the information session Sunday in Embrun, east of Ottawa, and is encouraging hunters to provide the province with deer samples.

Ontario is adding more freezers, where hunters can drop off deer heads to be tested, and more staff in the field to take samples. 

"If it does spread here, it's something that's fairly hard to remove from the ecosystem, so it's very concerning," said the QDMA's Keith Fowler. 

Province's program under review

The province's surveillance and response program, which was initially established in 2005 when concerns about CWD in Canada increased, is also under review.

The province said it's discussing various options to reduce the risk of the disease spreading to Ontario. 

"You want to get back and review it to ensure that it reflects the state of the science and the mandates of the agencies involved," said Chris Heydon, a senior policy advisory for wildlife health with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Chris Heydon with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry says the province is reviewing its surveillance and response program, which started in 2005, when concerns about CWD in Canada increased. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"It [CWD] has been shown to cause significant population effects in states and provinces where it has been widespread in wild deer populations," Heydon said. 

"It would have a significant affect both on populations and Ontario's strong hunting culture, which is obviously of great concern."

Hunters concerned about possible spread of disease

Gilles Drouin, 63, has been hunting since he was five years old and attended the meeting to find out more about the disease. 

"Our kids love to hunt and I'd like to help, to do something for further generations hunting deer," Drouin said. 

James Stewart was also at the meeting and had concerns because he hunts close to the Quebec border. 

Long-time hunter James Stewart attended the information in Embrun Sunday along with more than two-dozen other hunters. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Marc Bertrand, who has been hunting for 45 years, attended the meeting to learn more about how to recognize CWD.

"It is getting to be more of a concern," he said.

"It's coming closer and closer to … our territory so we'd like to know what to look forward to and what we can do to prevent it from getting to our area."

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) was there to encourage people to give samples.

It's also pushing for stricter rules in Ontario on moving deer around, which it said could help prevent the spread of disease. 

OFAH asking for stronger rules around moving deer

Keith Munro, wildlife biologist for the OFAH, said there are rules around bringing back "high-risk" body parts such as brains or spinal chords, but in some cases those deer parts can be moved while they are inside a live deer.

He also said rules are regulated through different ministries and the level of regulation varies depending on whether the animals are native or non-native species.

He said the regulations around non-native species are not clear. 

We're pushing for real, clear policies that will keep it out of Ontario.— Keith Munro, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

"Surveillance is not prevention. Surveillance will tell us when chronic wasting disease gets here, and then we have to respond to it, but it doesn't actually help us keep it out," he said. 

"We're pushing for real, clear policies that will keep it out of Ontario."

The OFAH said it has sent letters to both the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry and the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs asking them to work together to strengthen the rules.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.