An update on Québec’s first outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was the topic of a public information meeting held in Pointe-au-Chêne last Thursday evening.
A previous session was held in Grenville in October, soon after the disease was found in a herd of domestic red deer, believed to be on a farm in Boileau.
The Pointe-au-Chêne session was more controlled than the earlier meeting, which had often turned raucous with shouting from the audience at the officials who were speaking.
A presentation, led by Québec Ministère des forêts, faune, et parcs (MFFP) biologists Marianne Gagnier and Fréderick Lelièvre outlined the origins of CWD, the nature of the local outbreak, and the response to it.
The MFFP has extended its CWD response measures to the outbreak for an undetermined period.
Nine deer from the herd of 1,228 have tested positive for CWD.
All the deer from the affected farm are being killed and tested by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Hunting within a 45-kilometre radius of the outbreak site remains prohibited.
Any deer hunted in the surveillance area surrounding the prohibited zone must be taken to designated stations and tested for CWD.
In Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, the designated station is at the municipal garage on Route 148 near Calumet, and at butchers in Brownsburg-Chatham and St-André-d ’Argenteuil.
People should not eat meat from deer hunted in the surveillance area without having them tested first.
CWD develops in cervids, which include deer, moose, and caribou, due to a protein that does not form properly. It takes 17 to 36 months for it to incubate before symptoms develop.
Those symptoms are emaciated bodies, and extreme thirst. There is a 100 per cent mortality rate for animals with CWD.
Gagnier and Lelièvre explained that the threshold for CWD being considered as established in a wild population is one per cent. If the infection rate is higher than that, total eradication is not considered possible.
The good news is that the infection rate in the Québec outbreak is likely to be under one per cent.
“It is therefore reasonable to think that the disease can still be eradicated,” said Gagnier.
Out of the wild deer population, 432 have been culled as a precaution.
However, CWD can remain present in the environment at the site of an outbreak for two years following detection.
The disease is transmitted from animal-to-animal by bodily fluids.
Seasonal migration and winter yarding of wild deer can create a risk for disease to spread.
Due to that risk, the MFFP is advising property owners not to feed deer during the winter.
The culling of wild deer within the zone around the outbreak also helps maintain a low population density which reduces the chances of disease spreading from one animal to another.
Other scientific experts from the MFFP, the Ministère d’agriculture, pêcheries, et alimentation du Quebec (MAPAQ), and the CFIA were also there to take questions informally, once the session had ended.
Grenville-sur-la-Rouge mayor Tom Arnold opened and closed the meeting. After Gagnier and Lelièvre’s presentation, he read a few pre-submitted questions from residents and answered them, with help from the experts whenever necessary.
A couple of audience members grew impatient waiting for the presentation to end and demanded they be able to ask questions and make comments.
“We pay taxes!” shouted one man at Arnold, and warned the only reporter present not to take a photo of him.
The questions Arnold answered included why it was taking longer than expected for the domestic herd to be fully culled. The answer was that there was a limited capacity at the designated slaughterhouse.
Another person asked if the farm owner was receiving compensation for the loss of the herd. The owner will receive a limited compensation package from the federal government.
After the meeting ended and audience members mingled in conversation with the experts, Grenville-sur-la-Rouge resident Jean-Yves Beaulieu said he was “very satisfied” with the presentation and the information.
Beaulieu said the session clarified a lot of things about the situation and he believes the authorities have a good plan in place.
Harvey Young, also of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, was not so satisfied. He called the session a “crock of ——-.”
Young disputed how serious the CWD outbreak really is. “This outbreak is not an outbreak, it’s only on the farm. That’s false news,” said Young.
Tom Arnold stressed the need for landowners to cooperate with authorities responding to the CWD situation.
“We’re stuck with the situation and we’ve got to clean it up,” he said.