ALEDO, ILL. – Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation at the Mercer Court House in Aledo allowing establishment of special hunting seasons to help combat wildlife diseases threatening Illinois’ deer herd. The new law provides needed flexibility in efforts to contain the spread of chronic wasting disease, which was detected for the first time in wild deer in northern Illinois late last year.
“Wildlife managers now have another tool to use in battling chronic wasting disease and other wildlife diseases that may pose a threat to our wild deer herd and our state’s long-standing deer hunting tradition,” Blagojevich said at the bill signing outside the County Courthouse. “As we have seen with the recent spread of other diseases involving native and exotic wildlife, we need laws and regulations that allow us to act quickly to contain them. This law does that and will help secure the future of deer hunting in Illinois.”
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease affecting deer and elk, but is not a know threat to humans or livestock. The incurable disease is spread from one animal to another through close contact, causing infected animals to become emaciated, to display abnormal behavior, to lose coordination and to eventually die.
The disease has been found in wild deer in western states for many years. Illinois stepped up testing for CWD after the disease was discovered in neighboring Wisconsin last year.
As part of Illinois’ statewide chronic wasting disease surveillance conducted last fall and winter, more than 4,300 samples taken from deer in 36 counties were tested. A total of 14 confirmed cases of CWD were identified in Boone, McHenry and Winnebago counties in northern Illinois.
“This new law will help us move quickly if new cases of chronic wasting disease or other serious wildlife diseases are discovered,” said Joel Brunsvold, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “While no special hunting seasons are contemplated at this time, having the ability to harvest deer in a specific, targeted location may be a critical component of efforts to reduce transmission rates and prevent the spread of the disease.”
The new law - House Bill 2918 - amends the state Wildlife Code to allow the Department of Natural Resources to establish separate harvest periods for managing or eradicating disease found in the state’s deer herd. It was sponsored by state Reps. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, and Dave Winters, R-Shirland, and by state Sens. Todd Sieben, R-Geneseo; John Jones, R-Mt. Vernon; Larry Walsh, D-Elwood.
More than 240,000 hunters harvested 157,710 deer during the 2002-2003 hunting seasons in Illinois.