CWD in Tennessee
With Chronic Wasting Disease occurring in Tennessee, the TWRA has established the goal of keeping CWD from spreading, keeping the number of diseased deer in the affected area to a minimum, and reducing disease rates where possible. To achieve that goal, the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission established a CWD (chronic wasting disease) Unit with specific regulations to achieve our goals that are science-based and data-driven
What the TWRA is doing about CWD
In the fall of 2018, TWRA began an enhanced CWD Surveillance Program. The goal of the program was to build on past agency efforts to test an appropriate number of deer throughout the state to detect CWD if it were to be present. This CWD surveillance program is ongoing from year to year in every county in Tennessee.
On December 14, 2018, TWRA was informed by its CWD diagnostic laboratory 10 hunter-harvested deer from Hardeman and Fayette Counties were suspect for CWD. These deer had been sampled in November during the opening weekend of the deer gun season. Once the CWD-suspect deer were confirmed positive, TWRA’s CWD Response Plan was enacted and the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission (TFWC) established what is now known as Unit CWD, extended the deer season in the affected area to get more deer sampled, and instituted deer carcass exportation and wildlife feeding restrictions to help prevent disease spread.
The 2018-2019 Deer Season
Thanks to the cooperation of hunters and the actions of the Commission, the extended season in January 2019 was a very successful data-gathering effort and TWRA was able to learn a lot about the frequency and distribution of CWD in the affected area. With the aid of hunters, processors, and taxidermists, TWRA was able to test over 3,100 deer. Of these deer, 185 deer were confirmed positive for CWD, with 107 confirmations coming from Fayette County, 77 from Hardeman County, and one from Madison County. It was also determined, in accordance with TWRA’s CWD Management Plan; another 5 southwestern counties were affected since CWD was detected within 10 miles of their borders. These five counties include Chester, Haywood, McNairy, Shelby, and Tipton Counties and were considered high-risk status for CWD. In all counties designated high risk or positive, carcass transportation and wildlife feeding regulations are applicable.
The 2019-2020 Deer Season
The TWRA and the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission (TFWC) created Unit CWD, consisting of Chester, Haywood, Fayette, Hardeman, Madison, McNairy, Shelby, and Tipton counties. Unit CWD deer bag limits and seasons were tailored to empower hunters to increase the deer harvest to keep the number of diseased deer in the affected area to a minimum, reduce disease rates where possible, and keep CWD from spreading. With incredible support and participation from hunters, processors, taxidermists, and TWRA field staff, a grand total 14, 243 samples were tested for CWD. These tests were collected by way of mandatory check station weekends, drop-offs at 27 freezer locations, 13 taxidermists, 21 processors, and from deer showing clinical symptoms. This was a remarkably commendable effort from all involved! See the 2019-2020 CWD Results table for the county by county breakdown. By the close of the season, CWD had been found in wild deer in three additional counties and three additional counties are now considered high risk. The current status of CWD affected counties:
- Positive Counties (CWD positive deer found within the county): Chester, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton
- High-Risk Counties (CWD positive deer found within 10 miles of the county border): Crocket, Gibson, Lauderdale, and McNairy
Summary of CWD Testing Results for the 2019-2020 Deer Season
|County||CWD Status||Total Tested||Not Detected||Positive||% Prevalence|
There is no one easy solution to the challenge of CWD management. Various management techniques have been attempted in other states throughout the years with highly variable results. Best management requires long-term sustained effort using the latest science and the continued support and participation by hunters and other deer management stakeholders. Impacts of actions taken may not be readily apparent for years, maybe even decades, due to the nature of the disease; therefore it is difficult to predict exactly what the future holds. If we look to the lessons learned in some other states, it could be grim as CWD has resulted in significant population declines in mule deer in the western U.S. and there has been a shift in age structures of populations having had the disease for decades. CWD is not an impossible situation though. Despite the permanence of the disease where it exists, with the support of the affected stakeholders, it can be managed and deer hunting can still be enjoyed. Considering the high-quality deer habitat in the Unit CWD, TWRA’s commitment to the best management of CWD, and the responsiveness of hunters thus far, together we can ensure the best management of CWD in Tennessee. The easiest ways for you to help is to hunt Unit CWD and follow the disease management regulations and the best management practices for deer carcass disposal and transport included on this webpage.
TWRA has developed two landowner programs as tools to manage CWD and stop the spread. These programs act on the principle “Fewer Deer = Fewer CWD-Positive Deer = Less CWD Transfer.
Landowner CWD Management Permits
These permits are issued by County Wildlife Officers directly to landowners or their designated agents to allow the removal of deer on their property outside of deer season for the purpose of CWD management. This program is available only to landowners with land located in CWD affected counties. If you are a landowner and are interested in participating in this program, please contact the Region I TWRA office at 731-423-5725 or TWRA.ASKRegion1@tn.gov.
Targeted removal of deer is one of the most promising tools for managing CWD in a recently affected area. The idea is to remove infected deer at the leading edge of an area affected by CWD and curtail the spread into unaffected areas. TWRA is contacting select landowners near CWD-positive deer on the outskirts of the range of CWD in Chester, Haywood, Crockett, and Madison counties to recruit them as partners to help fight CWD.
TWRA is partnering with USDA Wildlife Services to remove deer in these areas after hunting seasons through March 31st. With landowner permission, this additional take will occur on properties where the greatest potential exists to stop the spread of CWD. The goal is not to eliminate all deer from the area, but to remove as many deer as necessary to decrease the rate of infection and stop the spread.
This method, known as Targeted Removal, has proven to be successful in Illinois and is making a positive difference in Minnesota, Michigan and Missouri. No removal will occur without the written consent of the landowners. All deer will be tested for CWD and, if CWD is not detected, the meat will be available to the landowner or donated to charity.
If you own land in Chester, Haywood, Crockett, or Madison county and are interested in this program, please contact the Region I TWRA office at 731-423-5725 or TWRA.ASKRegion1@tn.gov.
To help keep CWD in Tennessee deer to a minimum, landowners in CWD affected counties can . . . .
- Encourage hunters to harvest their bag limit
- Allow more hunting on your land
- Discontinue the use of mineral licks and feeding
- Cover old mineral sites with at least six (6) inches of topsoil/gravel
- Avoid planting small food plots
- Test deer harvested on your land for CWD.
Feeding and mineral sites increase contact between deer, thereby increasing the likelihood of the spread of CWD. As a result, the feeding of wildlife is restricted in counties affected by CWD. Currently, there are 11 counties affected by CWD, including high-risk counties where CWD has been detected within ten miles of the county border, and positive counties in which CWD has been detected. High-risk counties include Crocket, Gibson, Lauderdale, and McNairy counties. Positive counties include Chester, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton counties.
So, by not feeding wildlife, you are in compliance with the law and helping prevent the spread of CWD.
Grain, salt products, minerals, or other consumable natural and manufactured products may not be placed or put out for wildlife, with the following exceptions. The ban does not apply to feed placed within 100 feet of a residence such as bird feeders, feed placed in a manner not accessible to deer, or feed and minerals as the result of normal agricultural practices. Food plots are still legal in CWD affected counties.