ELKADER, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Chronic wasting disease has reached Iowa. The disease causes brain damage in deer and can devastate deer populations and hunting in an area.
But the Department of Natural Resources is taking action to keep it from spreading.
The DNR says a deer from the 2016 hunting season in Clayton County tested positive for the disease. Now the DNR is enlisting the help of hunters to collect samples of deer in an area northwest of Elkader to see if chronic wasting disease is spreading.
"It's pretty much in the roots. I mean everybody hunts. It's a big deal," said Travis Prior who hunts in Clayton County.
Learning to hunt is somewhat of a rite of passage for Prior and many people who grew up in Clayton County. But the threat of chronic wasting disease could change all that.
"I have a lot of hunting left so I worry that the deer population might take it really hard," said Prior.
That concern is motivating Prior and dozens of hunters to register for the DNR's special scientific collecting season.
"We are looking for the percentage of deer having it and also the distribution. Are we right in the epicenter of one or is that a fringe for the deer that might test positive?" said Terry Haindfield, Wildlife Management Biologist with the Iowa DNR.
The disease spreads from deer to deer, making the animal extremely sick until it literally wastes away.
The DNR says testing deer now would help them stop the spread before the beginning of deer season this fall.
"It's a big business for Iowa and an important resource,” said Haindfield.
Without having to pay a registration or tag fee, hunters will be allowed to hunt deer on a designated private property near Elkader.
The hunter is responsible for bringing the deceased deer to the DNR. Officers will test the deer's lymph nodes for the disease. The hunter is allowed to keep the carcass.
"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I'm taking my shot at it for sure," said Prior.
The special season starts Saturday and lasts until March 5.
People who are not hunters can still help the DNR with the research. If they see a dead deer along a road, they should contact the DNR. That will allow officers to test the animal for chronic wasting disease.