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A deer checks out leaves by an asphalt path in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A neurological disease that’s fatal to deer has been detected in Fairfax County for the first time ever.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was found in an adult male deer killed by a hunter in the Vienna area this past October, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) reported Friday (Jan. 13).

The department says it confirmed the diagnosis with a sample obtained shortly after the deer was taken to a taxidermist in late October

“At the time of harvest, no outward signs of disease were noted, and the deer appeared to be in good condition,” DWR said in a news release. “Because this is the first CWD-positive detection in Fairfax County, a county bordering Disease Management Area 2 (DMA2), the DWR conducted an extensive forensic investigation to confirm the harvest location of this deer.”

Disease Management Area 2 encompasses Loudoun, Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange, Page, Rappahannock counties, where four instances of the disease — including one in Loudoun County — were detected during the 2021-2022 deer-hunting season.

First detected in Virginia in 2009, CWD is caused by an infectious protein called a prion that get transmitted to deer through saliva, feces, and urine from infected deer as well as through contaminated soil, according to DWR.

It can take months or even over a year after being exposed for infected deer to show symptoms, which include “staggering, abnormal posture, lowered head, drooling, confusion, and marked weight loss,” the department says.

While the disease isn’t known to be infectious or dangerous to humans, pets or livestock, DWR advises all hunters with deer from CWD-positive areas to get them tested and avoid eating meat from animals that test positive.

The department also recommends against transporting deer carcasses or parts with brain or spinal cord tissue from Fairfax County to an area where CWD hasn’t been detected before. Deer parts should be put in double bags and disposed of in a landfill or a trash bin, where they can be collected.

The state says it won’t make any regulatory changes in response to the CWD detection in Fairfax County until after the current hunting season, but drop sites where deer heads can be taken for CWD testing will be added before the next season. Right now, the closest options are in Loudoun.

Though deer-hunting season is mostly over in Virginia, Fairfax County is one of several localities included in the state’s urban archery program, which restricts hunters to deer without antlers and lasts through March 26.

In an effort to manage local deer populations, Fairfax County is allowing hunting with bows and arrows at over 100 parks in its 2022-2023 archery season, which runs through Feb. 18. Testing for CWD has been conducted throughout the county in recent years as part of its deer management program.

“Since the 2019-2020 season, over 750 deer have been tested, with this being the only detection to date in the county,” DWR said.

The Fairfax County Police Department’s wildlife management staff, which has been assisting with CWD surveillance efforts since 2019, will work with DWR to “determine any new rules or regulatory changes that will occur.” It will also help identify testing options for hunters participating in the county archery program or on private property.

This has evidently been a year for new diseases in local nature. Last week, the county announced that beech leaf disease has been found in three parks, putting one of the area’s most common tree species at risk.

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A deer in a wooded neighborhood park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

A September hunt intended to control the local deer population in Tysons Forest has been canceled.

Voicing safety concerns, residents and other community members near the 33-acre Tysons Forest — also known as Old Courthouse Spring Branch Stream Valley Park — successfully campaigned to get it removed from a list of areas marked for deer hunting.

South of Route 7, Tysons Forest was one of 112 parks selected for the 2022-2023 archery season under the Fairfax County Deer Management Program. Overseen by the Fairfax County Police Department, the program is a partnership between the Fairfax County Park Authority, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and local landowners.

According to resident Jack Russell, the community became concerned about the hunt due to the park’s proximity to a daycare center.

The county allows archery as the primary tool to thin out high-density deer herds. According to the program’s website, bows and arrows have proven to be safe, with no bystanders injured by an archer hunting deer in the Commonwealth since Virginia began tracking those injuries in 1959.

However, in an Aug. 27, 2014 letter, then-Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Joseph Ward told a Fairfax resident that there have been five hunting incidents involving archery since 1960, most recently in 1996. According to the letter, none of them involved deer hunting.

Still, the narrowness of Tysons Forest and the nearby daycare center was enough for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to cancel the planned hunt.

“I want to thank Supervisor Alcorn and Dr. Katherine Edwards for their understanding,” Russell told FFXnow. “Fairfax County and the Board of Supervisors really listened to the concerns of the residents and were helpful in preventing a potential problem in Tysons Forest.”

While Tysons Forest will be researched to determine its viability for future deer hunts, the overall archery program will kick off on Saturday, Sept. 10, with eight parks added to the list of approved sites. The 2021-2022 program had 103 parks, totaling 21,236 acres.

According to Dr. Katherine Edwards, FCPD’s wildlife management specialist, new parks are suggested and evaluated for inclusion in the hunt each year where deer densities are above carrying capacity and pose conflicts.

Edwards says smaller parks close to residential areas have been added in recent years, since they have become movement corridors and refuges for deer.

According to Edwards, the hunts were established to address deer-related conflicts by controlling populations throughout the county. Conflicts include vehicle collisions, environmental damage to parkland and forested areas due to over-browsing by deer, residential complaints about property damage, and public health concerns about Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

Another emerging disease of concern for wildlife professionals is Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal, neurological disease that affects deer populations in Virginia.

The county’s archery season ends on Feb. 18, 2023.

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