A hunter-harvested whitetail has tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in northwestern Alabama, according to post this week on the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website Outdoor Alabama. A lab confirmed that the voluntarily submitted Lauderdale County deer carried the illness. This case is the first in the Yellowhammer State, which, according to the USGS, now becomes the 28th to harbor the always-fatal disease. It’s also been found in four Canadian provinces.

The discovery is one that the ADCNR expected eventually, according the Outdoor Alabama post. “CWD was first detected in Tennessee and Mississippi in 2018 and has been moving slowly toward Alabama,” said Chris Blankenship, Commissioner of the ADCNR. “The Department has implemented multiple proactive regulations to combat the spread into Alabama. Compliance from the public on those measures helped delay the spread into the state for several years.”

Still, few expected it to be discovered in Alabama so quickly. Most assumed that Kentucky, not Alabama, would be next, as CWD was found 8 miles south of Tennessee’s northern border with the the Bluegrass State. It led the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) to enact an emergency response plan in portions of southwestern Kentucky, even though the disease isn’t officially in the state yet.

Bag Limits and APRs Immediately Removed in CWD Zones

Now that CWD is in Alabama, the ADCNR has enacted an emergency response. Currently, Lauderdale and Colbert Counties comprise the new CWD Management Zone. This area is split into two areas, including the “High Risk Zone” and the “Buffer Zone,” each of which will implement slightly different regulations.

Some changes within the CWD Management Zone are immediate, however. Most notable, the ADCNR has removed daily and season bag limits, meaning hunters can take as many deer as they want. It has also removed antler restrictions, which now allows hunters to kill whatever antlered or antlerless deer they want in places they previously could not. Both changes apply to private and open-permit public lands and will stay in effect through the end of this deer season.

There is a catch, though. All deer bagged within the High Risk Zone must be submitted for CWD testing, and the ADCNR calls for hunters within the Buffer Zone to do so as well. Furthermore, deer carcasses and high-risk parts, such as intact skulls, must remain within the zone. Only deboned meat, clean skull caps, hides, and finished taxidermy may leave the zone.

“We take the presence of this disease very seriously, which is why we developed a plan of action using CWD best practices to deal with the disease…,” said Commissioner Blankenship. “The plan was developed in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, other state and federal agencies and various stakeholder groups. We are currently working with our partner agencies and hunters to implement that plan. Our staff is prepared, and the Department will do whatever is prudent and reasonable to protect the state’s deer resources and our hunting culture.”