State bans natural deer lures

Researchers say 25 percent of the have discovered the malaria parasite in the local white-tailed deer population. Ellen Martinsen, a postdoctoral researcher with the institute, said the parasite has been found in up to 25 percent of the white-tailed deer population on the East Coast.

Starting Wednesday, it will be illegal for hunters or wildlife enthusiasts to use natural deer lures that contain urine or other bodily fluids.

Nelson Lafon, deer project coordinator with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said the policy’s focus is to prevent further introduction of chronic wasting disease to the state’s deer population.

“The big concern was that we would bring [the disease] from another state into Virginia or where we don’t have it already,” Lafon said.

The most recent reported case of the disease in Virginia was in the northern portion of Shenandoah County in 2014. This caused the department to expand its chronic wasting containment area in February.

The only other states that have banned the use of natural deer lures are Alaska, Vermont and Arizona. Other states have simply banned deer lures within disease containment zones, Lafon said.

From a biological standpoint, Lafon noted, “Urine is one of the more effective ways of potentially passing along prions, the disease agents for [chronic wasting].”

Chronic wasting is a highly infectious and deadly encephalopathy that is only found in various cervid species. It is similar to mad cow disease. So far, research has not found the disease to be transmissible to humans.

Some of the problems with natural deer lures, Lafon explained, is that they are not strictly regulated and are produced in states where the disease is prevalent — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Lafon said farmers that raise deer in captivity produce the lures almost as a byproduct.

“Unfortunately, there’s not any kind of processing that you can do to … kill the prion without also rending the urine ineffective,” he said. “It would no longer be an organic material.”

Essentially, he said, this would reduce any potential effectiveness of the lure.

“There’s really not good independent research on how effective this stuff is anyway,” Lafon said.  “A lot of hunters will swear by it, they say it’s great, so it’s been marketed for years as being effective.”

While the department is banning the use of natural lures, hunters will still be able to purchase and use synthetic lures — which are created to replicate natural deer urine.

According to the department’s 2013-14 hunting survey, 41.7 percent of the hunters polled reported occasional use of lures or attractants.

Of the hunters polled in Region Four, which includes Shenandoah, Warren and Frederick counties, 50.7 percent reported using natural lures, versus 5.8 percent who said they used synthetic lures.

Since residents in Virginia are still able to buy natural lures, Lafon said this might make enforcement of the policy a bit complicated.

“The possession part is a problem … when somebody’s possessing it in the context of using it in the field for hunting or scouting,” Lafon said.

Lt. Ronnie Warren, of the department’s Virginia Conservation Police, said that enforcement of this policy change will be done on a case-by-case basis — similar to how it regulates corn use.

Warren noted that anyone caught possessing or using a natural lure or scent containing deer urine in the field could receive a maximum fine of $500 on a first offense.

Lafon said the department is viewing this policy change as the last risk factor that it has not yet addressed.

“The other kind of risk factors that we know of, we’ve really tried to address,” Lafon said. “This was one that has been out there staring at us for a while.”

Lafon added that the department has known about this as a risk factor for the last decade, and that talk of changing the policy intensified following the first Virginia case of chronic wasting disease in 2009.

He said some hunters expressed concern and opposition over the policy change.

“I do realize this is a change for some hunters, and that it is a sacrifice,” Lafon said, adding that they have received numerous comments from hunters expressing opposition and an understanding of the policy.

“We think that the majority of hunters will change their behavior,” Lafon said, adding, “If the amount of this stuff that is poured in the ground is reduced, that means we’ve been successful.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com