Since the discovery of CWD in Tennessee in 2018, TWRA’s goal is to prevent CWD from spreading, keep the number of diseased deer in the affected area to a minimum, and reduce disease rates where possible. TWRA, in partnership with the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission and a multitude of vital organizations, has developed and implemented an intensive science based and data driven CWD management program intent on achieving these goals.
In 2002, following the discovery of CWD in Wisconsin, TWRA began to survey deer across the state for CWD. In 2016, CWD was discovered in Arkansas, prompting TWRA to improve and intensify CWD surveillance efforts culminating in a risk-based surveillance plan the Cornell Wildlife Health Lab helped design. This CWD surveillance program is still ongoing from year to year in every county in Tennessee. During this period, TWRA implemented measures to keep CWD out of Tennessee, including interstate carcass transportation and urine lure restrictions.
On December 14, 2018, TWRA was informed by its CWD diagnostic laboratory that 10 hunter-harvested deer taken during the opening weekend of gun season from Hardeman and Fayette Counties tested positive for CWD. This notification set off a chain reaction prescribed in TWRA’s CWD Response Plan. Unit CWD was created, the deer hunting season was extended with mandatory check stations and as result, over 3,100 deer were sampled to reveal a baseline spread and prevalence of CWD in the area. Interstate carcass transportation and wildlife feeding restriction regulations were put in place.
By way of a network of voluntary hunter submissions, assistance from taxidermist and processors, and TWRA sponsored check stations, over 38,000 deer have been sampled since that first discovery in 2018. Samples are also collected from sick and dying animals throughout the year and all harvested elk. CWD management programs, guided by best management practices, have been developed and established to curtail the spread and prevalence of the disease. Also, during this time, TWRA has made concerted communication efforts to provide support and timely information to its constituents, as well as listen to and learn from stakeholder feedback.
Best management practices for CWD involve a multipronged approach to not only prevent the spread between individual animals and amongst different deer groups (i.e., reducing the geographic spread and prevalence), but also to address the environmental persistence of prions as a source of infection. At this time, there are no practical means of removing, inactivating, or mitigating prions in the environment, leaving the focus of management on limiting deer interactions and human assisted movement of prions.
Much like managing wild deer populations, CWD management is only successful as a collaborative effort between the Agency and its stakeholders (e.g. hunters, landowners, etc.). It is a balancing act between meeting disease management objectives and maintaining a viable and sustainable population. Current programs are aimed at increasing hunter participation through increased bag limits and harvest opportunities, engaging landowners in active CWD management, focusing additional removal of deer around confirmed positives in low prevalence areas, and conducting annual aerial surveys to monitor the effects of CWD on population levels. TWRA is pursuing the construction of a large incinerator to facilitate the disposal of deer carcass parts in a manner that deactivates the infectious agent. In addition, recently instituted regulations help prevent the spread of prions by humans by restricting the movement of live deer in the state, restricting the movement of potentially infected carcasses outside of known CWD endemic areas, and prohibiting practices that concentrate deer.
Additionally, TWRA is actively pursuing collaborations for research projects to improve the effectiveness of CWD management. One such project involves using dogs as biosensors (i.e., detectors) of active infection in wild animals. Another project will lead to a better understanding of the role environmental deposits of prions play in the natural disease transmission cycle.
CWD management programs in Tennessee are constantly being refined in response to new research and changing conditions across the landscape. TWRA is developing a long-term CWD Management Strategic Plan to provide a framework for prevention, surveillance, monitoring, management, and research.
CWD has been found in wild white-tailed deer in nine Positive Counties: Chester, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Henry, Lauderdale, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton.
Additionally, CWD has been detected within 10 miles of the border of five High-risk Counties: Crocket, Gibson, Henderson, McNairy, and Weakley.
After the 2020-2021 deer hunting season, Fayette County had the highest county-wide prevalence of CWD at 13.7% and Hardeman county had the next highest at 9.2%. Both Fayette County and Hardeman County have seen increases in prevalence since 2018. Within these two high-prevalence counties, the disease is not distributed evenly, and the prevalence essentially represents an average for the county. Roughly 60% of the known positive deer come from an area centered on the southern half of the Fayette-Hardeman county line. CWD prevalence is higher in and around this core area than in other parts of these counties. A much lower percentage of deer that are harvested from other areas of Fayette and Hardeman counties test positive for CWD.
The remaining counties where CWD has been detected all have prevalence below 1% and range from 0.58% (Shelby) to 0.12% (Lauderdale). Although it may seem as if the disease has spread rapidly across southwest Tennessee, the reality is the disease was likely there for many years before being detected. It has taken three years of surveillance to fully understand the extent of the affected area, but we now believe we have identified the current, distribution of CWD in Tennessee.
The long-term impacts of CWD on deer populations in Tennessee are currently unknown. Other states battling CWD have documented deer population declines above 40% in locations where the disease is present. Other states have seen a shift in the age structure—meaning they no longer see older deer. These outcomes are neither desirable, nor consistent with managing for long-term, healthy, and sustainable deer populations. TWRA is committed to preventing these undesirable outcomes. It is critical that we swiftly and effectively employ our management. If left unchecked, the disease may yet continue to spread past the known range in Tennessee. CWD management is not a one-man band. It is a partnership between TWRA, partners, hunters, landowners, and you. Your engagement and support is needed. Please, harvest more deer in Unit CWD. Abide by carcass transportation and feeding restrictions in CWD-positive and high-risk counties. Seek out credible sources and understand the newest scientific information on CWD management. Signup for CWD email updates. Together we can conserve a healthy deer population for the benefit of present and future generations.
You are a valued part of CWD management in Tennessee. Management goals can only be effective with the help of hunters, landowners, and the general public. Listed below are just a few ways you can help with managing CWD.
- Keep hunting! Take advantage of the additional opportunities to harvest deer in CWD affected counties.
- Honor carcass transportation restrictions for Tennessee if hunting out-of-state or exporting from CWD affected counties (only deboned meat, clean skulls, skull plates and teeth, antlers, finished taxidermy, hides, and tanned products).
- Follow the regulation prohibiting the placement of grain, salt products, minerals, and other consumable products for wildlife in CWD affected counties (CWD Affected Counties - Wildlife Feeding Restrictions).
- Have deer tested for CWD and follow best practices for carcass disposal in CWD affected counties.
- Report sick or abnormal-looking deer or Elk to TWRA. Visit the Report A Sick Deer page to learn more.
- Report anyone not abiding by carcass transport laws to TWRA. Region Contact Information
- Abide by the new regulation regarding the use of synthetic urine lures or products with the Archery Trade Association’s seal of approval.