Our study sites in Northwest Arkansas are within the general area of the the Buffalo River. The Buffalo was the first National River in the United States, with 135 miles flowing through National Park Service land.
The landscape is mostly forested except in the valleys, with relatively rough topography making for beautiful scenery and a challenging place to capture deer.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease of deer discovered in 1967 in Colorado. In 2015, CWD was detected in elk in Arkansas, and in 2016 it was detected there in white-tailed deer. Later testing indicated that CWD was in the state for decades and at high disease prevalence (>20%) in deer within a 10-county region in northern Arkansas. Hunting is the primary method used to manage deer populations throughout Arkansas, and the state wildlife agency has enacted several hunting regulations to minimize spread of CWD and reduce accumulation of the disease agent in the CWD-management zone. However, no field studies have been conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of hunting as a control technique. Populations with CWD at high disease prevalence (e.g., Arkansas) appear to be more susceptible to overharvest and subsequent population declines. Efforts to control, contain, and monitor CWD in deer populations must be balanced with the potential for long-term recreational hunting opportunities. However, little is known about how fatal transmissible diseases, such as CWD, alter population demographics.
To better understand deer populations in and adjacent to the CWD-Management Zone, the UGA Deer Lab is working closely with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to capture, collar and monitor deer in this area. Dr. Michael Chamberlain, Dr. Gino D'Angelo, Dr. Richard Chandler and Dr. Mark Ruder are directing a field research team lead by Dana Jarosinski and PhD student, Marcelo Jorge.
Objectives of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission-funded research include:
1. To estimate the current abundance of white-tailed deer in the chronic wasting disease (CWD) management zone of northwestern Arkansas
2. To examine survival and recruitment of white-tailed deer in the CWD management zone and to compare these parameters between CWD positive and presumed negative deer
3. To examine movement and home range size of white-tailed deer within the CWD management zone and to compare these between CWD positive and presumed negative deer
4. To calculate infection rates of CWD in white-tailed deer by age class and sex
5. To calculate mortality rates and determine causes of mortality for CWD positive and presumed negative white-tailed deer
6. To use the above data to populate a model that will examine current and future population trends in the presence of CWD to help inform future management decisions as directed by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
The Arkansas field crew uses a combination of darting, rocket nets, drop nets and Clover-style box traps to capture deer within their designated study sites. Once captured, most deer are fitted with GPS collars and other telemetry technology to help us monitor their locations and behaviors.