SCIF partners with Georgia Officials to engage Hunters and other Stakeholders to Minimize Risk of CWD in White-tailed Deer

The SCIF Conservation Department, with support from the Conservation Committee, is partnering with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GADNR), and the University of Georgia (UGA) to survey hunters, meat processors and taxidermists to inform future communications about chronic wasting disease (CWD) and aid GADNR in planning their CWD management efforts. Although CWD has not yet been detected in Georgia, this partnership will help GADNR in preventing introduction of the disease and, in the event CWD is found, work effectively with the people most concerned about white-tailed deer populations in the Peach State.

The first objective is to develop guidelines for taxidermists and meat processors to learn about current risk factors (e.g., carcass disposal) and to bolster the efficiency and effectiveness of CWD sampling efforts in the state. The mail survey of meat processors and taxidermists is currently underway. This survey is focused on gathering information from over 400 businesses and individuals about how to incentivize their cooperation with GADNR to improve CWD sampling. About 24% have responded to this survey so far. The survey will be complete by March 2024, after which the data will be analyzed by researchers at UGA.

The second objective is to determine the management preferences for resident Georgia deer hunters and to identify effective communication methods to reach these critical partners in CWD management. Early detection and effective communication are critical to managing CWD if it ever reaches Georgia. The survey team will use several methods to engage a target audience of 7,000 resident deer hunters to evaluate their level of knowledge and concern about CWD as well as preferences regarding management actions. The survey will also seek to clarify hunters’ likelihood of engaging in CWD risk-reduction behaviors. Both email and paper surveys will be utilized to allow greater participation across the range of hunters in the state. This survey will be initiated by March 1, 2024.

Although CWD has not been found in Georgia, this research seeks to ensure that GADNR is prepared to proactively combat the threat of CWD in white-tailed deer. These data wi will help minimizing risks of CWD introduction to the state and the risk of spread if the disease is found. A cornerstone of the partnership is to effectively engage the public and stakeholders in CWD-mitigation strategies. The survey research will provide detailed information essential to communicating with different groups given the diversity of the state’s clientele and their interests with regards to deer management.

The survey results will provide detailed information to the GADNR on recommendations on strategies including effective ways to communicate to the public and private-sector businesses to increase sampling efficiency for CWD. Survey results are expected to be finalized sometime in mid-late 2024.