Concerned about a fatal disease that can decimate deer and elk populations, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is proposing to expand import restrictions on deer, elk, moose and caribou carcasses.
Presently the TWRA does not allow carcasses into Tennessee from 25 states and two Canadian provinces where chronic wasting disease has been documented.
The agency is proposing to keep out carcasses from the entire U.S. and Canada, according to a new release.
Hunters now can only bring out-of-state deer, elk, moose, or caribou back home from those states and provinces if they have been butchered or prepared based upon strict criteria.
They may bring back meat that has bones removed; cleaned antlers, skull plates and teeth, finished taxidermy and antler products and hides or tanned products.
"This change will make our import restriction rule easy to understand," Chuck Yoest, an assistant chief in TWRA's Wildlife Division, said in the release. "No matter where a hunter travels outside of Tennessee, import restrictions must be followed. It also helps strengthen our message about how serious this disease is."
CWD is a contagious and deadly neurological disorder that affects members of the deer family known scientifically as cervids. Prions — misfolded or abnormal proteins — are responsible for CWD transmission.
Prions are found throughout a diseased animal's body, but are concentrated in an animal's eyes, brain, tonsils, spleen and lymph nodes. Animals can pick up the disease from other animals or from contaminated food, water or environtment.
The import restrictions aim at protecting native herds of white-tailed deer throughout Tennessee and the small population of elk in the eastern portion of the state.
"We have hunters who often return from trips with an elk, deer, moose, or even caribou carcass," Yoest said. "We don't want hunters to unintentionally introduce CWD to Tennessee through infected tissues."
While CWD is considered 100 percent fatal once contracted, it is not known to harm humans or livestock. States that have documented CWD, including Mississippi and Arkansas, are attempting to contain it.
"We also have a CWD plan ready for use, but it implementing it will mean changing the way we manage our deer and elk herds and be very expensive," Yoest said.
The amended rule will now be sent from the 13-member Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission to the State Attorney General's Office for review.