CWD in Tennessee
Positive CWD and High-risk CWD Counties
Positive CWD county: a county with a confirmed case of CWD.
High-risk CWD county: a county with a confirmed case of CWD within 10 miles of the county border.
Deer carcass transportation and wildlife feeding restrictions apply to positive CWD and high-risk CWD counties. Therefore, if a new county becomes positive or high-risk (based on CWD test results) these restrictions will automatically apply. Visit tn.gov/twra/cwdcounties for the most up-to-date map of positive and high-risk CWD counties. All other regulations (e.g., deer hunting unit, season dates, bag limits, etc.) remain the same unless changed by TWRA.
Carcass Transport Restrictions
Only approved parts (see graphic to the right) may be moved out of positive or high-risk CWD counties.
- Deer carcasses can move from one high-risk CWD county to another high-risk CWD county. Deer carcasses can move from a high-risk CWD county to a positive CWD county. Once brought into a positive CWD county, deer carcasses originating from a high-risk CWD county cannot be moved to another high-risk CWD county.
- A deer carcass cannot be moved outside of positive CWD counties but can move from one positive CWD county to another adjacent positive CWD county.
- Approved parts are free to be transported anywhere statewide.
Within positive CWD counties and high-risk CWD counties, the placement of grain, salt products, minerals, and other consumable natural and manufactured products is prohibited.
Feeding restrictions do not apply if the feed or minerals are:
- placed within one hundred (100) feet of any residence or occupied building; or
- placed in such a manner to reasonably exclude access by deer; or
- placed as part of a wild hog management effort authorized by the agency; or
- present solely as a result of normal agricultural practices, normal forest management practices, or crop and wildlife food production practices.
There are restrictions on moving whole or field-dressed deer carcasses. The following approved parts may move freely throughout the state and out of the state:
- Antlers (including ones attached to clean skull plates)
- De-boned meat / Cleaned skulls and Skull plates
- Hides & Tanned products / Finished Taxidermy
- Teeth (free of meat and tissues)
TN residents hunting out of state – Only approved parts (i.e., deboned meat, clean skulls, skull plates and teeth, antlers, finished taxidermy, hides, and tanned products) from deer, elk, moose, and caribou may be brought back into TN.
Nonresident hunters – Be aware of potential restrictions on taking your TN deer carcass back to your home state. Check your home state regulations and regulations of those states you travel through to return home.
Unit CWD Earn-A-Buck
To increase the number of deer harvested and sampled for CWD management, additional bucks may be earned.
- Tennessee’s antlered deer bag limit (2) did not change; therefore it still applies to hunters hunting Unit CWD as well as the rest of the state.
- As of this year, Unit CWD hunters may earn an unlimited number of antlered deer for harvest in Unit CWD, in addition to the statewide antlered deer bag limit of two.
- An additional antlered deer is earned for every two antlerless deer harvested in Unit CWD and submitted for CWD testing.
- Earned antlered deer must be harvested in Unit CWD.
- Valid for 2020-21 hunting season only.
Unit CWD Replacement Buck
To assist CWD management efforts, TWRA will encourage hunters to continue hunting, harvesting and be an added incentive for hunters to have their deer tested for CWD:
- Unit CWD hunters will receive a replacement buck if they harvest a CWD-positive antlered deer and the lab result is confirmed by TWRA.
- There is no limit on the number of replacement bucks.
- Replacement bucks must be harvested in Unit CWD or in the county where the qualifying CWD-positive antlered deer was harvested.
- Valid for 2020-21 hunting season only.
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) was first discovered in two southwest Tennessee counties in December 2018. With the discovery of the disease in the state, we joined 25 other US states, four Canadian provinces, and four other countries in the management of CWD. CWD was first recognized in the late 1960s in mule deer in a research facility in northern Colorado and shortly thereafter, it was identified in free-ranging mule deer and elk in Colorado and Wyoming.
TWRA is committed to preventing the spread of CWD and to decreasing the prevalence (i.e., infection rate) of the disease in the affected area where possible. Since the discovery of CWD, TWRA has been able to do a comprehensive analysis of the extent of the outbreak. This work would not have been possible without the cooperation of Agency partners, taxidermists, processors, landowners, and most importantly, hunters. TWRA has used the information gained through these collaborative efforts to begin to combat the disease and plan for future efforts to try to successfully manage CWD which is only possible with the continued support and cooperation of hunters and other stakeholders.
Before getting into the ins and outs of CWD management in Tennessee, let us take a step back and review what the disease is. Chronic wasting disease is a progressive neurological disease in deer and elk species that is always fatal. There is no vaccine and no cure. CWD belongs to a group of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which also includes mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans. CWD has been found in wild deer, elk, moose, and caribou populations. There has never been a proven link between consuming meat from a CWD infected animal and disease in people, but there are other prion-related animal diseases that people can get. In areas known to have CWD, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that hunters strongly consider getting their deer tested and not consume meat from animals that test positive.
Prions are the causative agent for all TSEs, including CWD. Put simply, a prion is an abnormal form of a normal protein made in the body. Prions are not living organisms like bacteria, fungi or parasites. The body cannot break down prions. Therefore, they accumulate. This accumulation of prions leads to tissue damage. The clinical (i.e., visible) signs typically seen are the result of tissue damage in the brain and neurologic system. The buildup of these abnormal proteins leads to a slowly progressive, neurologic disease resulting in muscle wasting and ultimately death.
Depending on the stage of infection, infected animals will shed prions in saliva, feces, urine, blood, semen, and even antler velvet. CWD is transmitted orally (i.e., by mouth) and is most likely passed by direct contact with infected animals or through contact with prions present in the environment (e.g., at shared feeding sites, salt licks, rubs, and scrapes in CWD areas).
There is no treatment for CWD, and normal environmental processes such as sunlight, freezing or drying out do not inactivate prions. Prions are nearly indestructible and are only rendered non-infectious by heating them to 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit or through chemical denaturing.
CWD Negatively Impacts Deer Populations
The biggest concerns surrounding CWD are the long-term impacts on deer populations in Tennessee. Wildlife biologists in states where CWD was detected several decades ago have documented overall population declines in mule deer, white-tailed deer and elk. In certain instances, the declines were well over 40% herd loss with no sign of recovery since. Other negative impacts have been shifts in the age structure to younger age classes (i.e., fewer older, mature deer on the landscape). Less obvious impacts include poor fawn survival and an increased susceptibility to predation because of CWD.
Information About CWD In Tennessee
Unfortunately, the disease is distributed across at least 4,500 square miles in seven counties (Chester, Fayette, Hardeman, Haywood, Madison, Shelby, and Tipton). For perspective, the affected area is roughly 3.5 times the size of Rhode Island. Four additional counties (Crockett, Gibson, Lauderdale, and McNairy) are high-risk for CWD because the disease has been found in free ranging deer within 10 miles of these counties. Of the 678 animals that have tested positive to date, most have been adult bucks. However, positive animals have been identified in both sexes and in all ages. Prevalence is the highest in Fayette (13.5%) and Hardeman (7.8%) counties. Fortunately, the other five counties only have low prevalence of the disease at this time, and no CWD has been detected in the remaining 88 counties.
Although CWD has been detected in seven counties, there is a distinct core area where approximately 60% of the positive deer have been detected. This core area is located along the southern part of the Fayette and Hardeman county border and encompasses roughly 500 square miles. The core area has a much higher prevalence and based on current estimates the prevalence is likely 35% or higher. As you move farther out from the core, the prevalence decreases. The large geographic distribution of CWD in Tennessee, the high number of positive deer detected, and the high estimated prevalence rates in the core area indicate CWD has been in Tennessee for a while. Unfortunately, these numbers put the status of CWD in Tennessee on par with states that have been combating the disease for decades. Research from these states has shown population impacts are first noted once CWD is greater than 5% in the adult buck population. The prevalence documented this past hunting season for adult bucks in Fayette and Hardeman counties is greater than 16%. Therefore, CWD may already be negatively impacting deer populations in these counties.
Despite the unfortunate outcomes above, thanks to the help from Agency partners, taxidermists, processors, landowners and hunters, TWRA has laid the foundation for a successful long-term CWD management program. Highlighted below are some of the major successes thus far.
Our CWD monitoring and service testing program provides testing free of charge for deer harvested within the affected area which enables TWRA to monitor changes in the prevalence and distribution of the disease. Developed before the discovery of CWD, our risk-based surveillance system is designed to detect CWD in other parts of the state if it were to occur there. Through these efforts, approximately 19,000 animals have been tested statewide since the fall of 2018. This success is due to dedicated agency staff and hunters, processors and taxidermists who assist in collection, sampling, and disposal of harvested deer.
Since hunting is the primary tool for effective CWD management on a large scale, TWRA has expanded harvest opportunities in Unit CWD. The agency has made it so hunters who harvest a CWD-positive antlered deer can receive a replacement buck, and those who contribute to disease management by harvesting antlerless deer in Unit CWD can earn-a-buck to harvest additional antlered deer. In addition, method-of-take restrictions have been eased during some season segments in Unit CWD.
In cooperation with the University of Tennessee (UT) Extension, TWRA worked exhaustively to educate hunters, landowners and other stakeholders about CWD and how they can help. These efforts include, but are not limited to the following:
- dozens of public meetings (many of which were also live-streamed),
- extensive social media and digital educational efforts,
- staffed check stations in Unit CWD during opening weekends of the 2019 – 2020 deer season,
- informational campaign in traditional news outlets (e.g., billboards, newspaper, radio, broadcast TV, etc.), and
- direct outreach to local organizations and governments.
Finally, TWRA has partnered with UT to study how hunters and landowners have been impacted by CWD, their perceptions about CWD in general and TWRA’s efforts to manage CWD, and how each of these change over time.
On The Horizon
The road ahead will be challenging, but effective management of CWD is possible and TWRA is fully committed to this issue. The Agency will continue the important efforts described above, but there is even more being developed as this is being written which you can expect to hear more about soon, including:
- Partnering with landowners in portions of the affected area to remove even more deer than are harvested during hunting season.
- Establishing in-state diagnostic labs to expand sampling capacity and improve turnaround time of results.
- Potentially developing a facility in the affected area dedicated to CWD and wildlife health.
- Research on wild deer in the affected area and the role the environment (e.g., prions in the soil) plays in CWD transmission.
CWD management is a partnership between TWRA, Agency partners, hunters, and landowners. We need your engagement and support. Please, harvest more deer in Unit CWD. Abide by carcass transportation and feeding restrictions in positive CWD and high-risk CWD counties. Read all of the CWD content in this hunting guide. Sign-up for email updates at CWDinTN.com. Together we can conserve a healthy deer population for the benefit of present and future generations.