To feed or not to feed?

Louisiana’s deer hunters have a choice to make, one that could safeguard deer herds the Sportsman’s Paradise.

State Department of Wildlife and Fisheries game biologists recommend that deer hunters refrain from using supplemental feed to attract deer to the areas they hunt. The use of supplemental feed increases the chance of spreading diseases, including chronic wasting disease, among deer and other wildlife using bait stations, according to Jonathan Bordelon, deer program manager for the LDWF.

Neighboring states Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi have restricted the use of supplemental feed. CWD presence in those states was the tipping point, the leverage behind such regulations.

Louisiana hasn’t gone that far. However, state biologists want to make deer hunters aware of the “negative consequences,” Bordelon said Friday evening from his home in Marksville.

“It’s just that when you concentrate animals at a feed site, you’re putting them at high risk,” he said.

“It’s not a mandatory restriction. Right now we’re just cautioning hunters,” he said.

The state agency’s goal is to educate deer hunters to the dangers of supplemental feed, he said.

“Obviously a disease like CWD can be transmitted animal to animal and animal to environment to animal,” he said.

How so? Animals that gather at the source of the supplemental feed urinate and defecate in the same spot. Transmission of the disease, if it were present, can go from deer to deer, feral pigs to deer, raccoons to deer, and so on.

The game biologist likens the spread to influenza infecting people. 

If people eat at different tables, they are less likely to get the flu, he said. If they eat from the same plate or from the same spoon, the risks of getting the flu would increase. 

From manufactured protein pellets to corn, rice and soybeans, spread with spin feeders that scatter the food or dropped by gravity feeders to the waiting mouth of deer, supplemental feeds are popular among deer hunters and provide a thriving business for those making the corn and various machines to dispense them available.

As a result, the recommendation announced this past week by state officials probably will be unpopular with some deer hunters and most if not all manufacturers. However, if deer hunters think about it, the reasoning behind the recommendation carries a lot of weight, state officials point out.

Bordelon, who has been with the stage agency more than 19 years, has held his statewide position as deer program manager since 2015. He and other state game biologists are monitoring CWD, which was confirmed in a buck that tested positive Jan. 25 in western Mississippi, five miles from the Louisiana border due east of Madison Parish.

CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease, which is 100 percent fatal and affects members of the family Cervidae, which includes whitetailed deer. It is caused by misfolded proteins called prions, which can be shed in saliva, urine, feces and decomposing carcasses, Bordelon said.

Once a deer consumes the prion and is infected, it develops clinical signs that may not be apparent for 16 to 24 months. They lose weight, salivate and exhibit neurological problems before they die.

CWD hasn’t been detected in Louisiana. LDWF personnel sampled 300 deer in the buffer zone, which is within 25 miles of the case in Issaquena County and included portions of East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes. The sample size provides a 95-percent confidence interval that sampling would detect CWD at a prevalence rate of 1 percent, Bordelon said.

There are other drawbacks to using corn, he pointed out. For example, corn also can be a source of mold or toxin that can be very harmful to deer and other wildlife.

There are other ways to enhance a deer hunter’s hunting site, he said. Deer hunters are encouraged to focus on managing the native forage bases through prescribed burns, mechanical vegetation manipulation and application of appropriate fertilizers. Or practice timber management or make large-scale food plots.

LDWF biologists intend to conduct increased hunter-harvested deer surveillance for CWD in East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes this season and continue normal CWD surveillance across the state, Bordelon said. State biologists have tested nearly 9,000 deer for CWD since 2002.

Deer hunters who want to have their harvested deer tested can contact LDWF regional offices throughout the state. Those offices can take samples during business hours from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Bordelon said the LDWF continues to have cooperative discussion with state and federal agencies in the fight against CWD and to prevent it from entering the state.

For more information on CWD, go to www/wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/CWD.

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