By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer
SADIEVILLE, Ky. - By noon Saturday, the first day this hunting season that Kentuckians could use modern firearms to kill deer, heads from 12 carcasses were turned over to state wildlife biologist Clay Smitson so they could be tested for "chronic wasting disease," or CWD.
The state aims to test 1,000 hunter-harvested deer and elk this year. They want to keep the disease, which causes deer to behave strangely and then die, out of the commonwealth.
Related to mad cow disease, CWD has invaded 10 states and most recently appeared in Illinois. Both Kentucky and Ohio are doing their best to keep the disease away from their borders.
CWD is not known to be transferable to humans, but the disease potentially could devastate the states' hunting industries. Each year, hunters pump $329 million into Ohio's economy and $350 million into Kentucky's.
"People are more than willing to allow us to take those heads. They share our concerns about the disease and they're more than willing to help out," said Mr. Smitson, speaking at a processing plant near Lexington.
CWD was identified more than 20 years ago. Elk, white-tailed deer and mule deer have tested positive in the following states: Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.
Ohio aims to test 500 deer this year despite state officials' skepticism that any will test positive.
"Our chances of having that in the state right now are pretty slim. However, we want to do everything that we can to keep it out. We don't have it here and we don't want it here," said Todd Haines of the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Last week, Hamilton County Park District Commissioners approved a new deer-management program. In January and February, specially trained park rangers will shoot and kill up to 500 deer. All venison will be donated to area soup kitchens.
John Klein, the district's land manager, said any deer that seem abnormally thin or listless prior to death would be automatically tested for CWD. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must inspect and approve all donated venison.
"It's obviously a concern but I don't think it's a threat," he said.
In Covington, the Parish Kitchen feeds the poor, homeless, mentally ill and chemically dependent. About 165 people line up for a warm meal every day.
Director Molly Navin always welcomes donations. She doesn't know if she'll ever need the park district's venison. If she does, she'll feel better knowing the meat has the FDA's approval.
"I always have concerns about disease when it comes to serving people," she said. "We would never accept anything that had not been tested and approved."
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