Could Mississippi officials have used better boundaries than county lines?
Unless you have been holed up in a cave with no way of communicating for the past three or four months, you are well aware that a buck discovered on Jan. 25 in Issaquena County, Miss. tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
Mississippi wildlife officials immediately implemented a CWD response plan, and a containment zone was established, centered on the location of the infected buck. A zonal-response operation was initiated that included CWD testing of deer within the containment zone. Mississippi is the 25th state to confirm the presence of the disease.
Wildlife officials from Louisiana were notified, and after consultation with neighboring states, biologists and veterinarians, Louisiana initiated its own CWD response plan. A Declaration of Emergency was approved, effective March 5, that all supplemental deer feeding was to immediately cease in East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes, which abut the Mississippi River across from Issaquena County. About 600 square miles, or around 30 percent of Mississippi’s 1,964-square mile “Containment Zone” circle laps across the river and includes parts of all three parishes.
One major ramification of the two states establishing containment zones involves the banning of all supplemental feeding and mineral-station activities, not only within the “buffer zone” — a circle with a 25-mile radius — but across six entire Mississippi counties and three Louisiana parishes that have any overlap with the circle, no matter how small.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks released a sample collection report on March 22. Of the almost 400 samples that have been collected in the six affected Mississippi counties between Oct. 1, 2017 and March 22, no additional CWD infection has been found. This is great news, but of course, testing will be continuing.
Is anybody happy?
I had a recent conversation with someone from Mississippi involved in the discussion about establishing the CWD response measures. He minced no words explaining to me that, in his opinion, supplemental feeding should have never been allowed in Mississippi in the first place. No sympathy whatsoever was expressed for hunters and landowners in the six counties that are being affected by the supplemental feeding ban.
Fortunate or not, supplemental feeding became legal a few years ago. The hunting public wanted it and called for it, and the Legislature passed it into law. When politics and science collide, as it did in this case, for every interested party that was pleased, there always seems to be another party that was displeased.
I recently had another very different conversation with a hunter/landowner whose hunting property in one of the six counties where supplemental feeding has been banned — but outside the buffer zone.
After the ban was instituted, the landowner called the MDWFP to ask why supplemental feeding was banned in his entire county when only a small sliver of the county was inside the 25-mile circle. The response he received was — and I’m paraphrasing here — the entire county was subject to the supplemental feeding ban because MDWFP couldn’t have “a containment boundary line running out through the middle of the woods.”
Exasperated, my friend hung up and rechecked the MDWFP Containment Zone map. What he found, to him, defied logic, as there were several highways and waterways that could have easily been used as boundary lines in his county. Hearing this, I set out to see what was going on. What I found also had me shaking my head in disbelief.
Devil in the details
I drew my own map showing the containment-zone circles in conjunction with the six affected counties.
Only 7 percent of Claiborne County falls inside the 25-mile circle, but the entire county is part of the supplemental-feeding ban. But the northwest corner of Copiah County is just 3 or 4 miles from the circle, but supplemental feeding isn’t banned there. Huh?
Only 22 percent of Hinds County falls inside the circle, but the entire county is included in the supplemental feeding ban. The head scratcher here is that the western end of Madison County is 2 miles or less from the circle, and none of the county is affected by the ban. Say what?
Last of all, only 15 percent of Yazoo County is inside the circle, but the entire county, extending 24 miles from the circle to the east side of I-55, is under the ban. Again, the southern edge of Madison County where it borders Yazoo County is within 2 miles of the circle, and Humphreys County to the north comes within about 6 miles of the circle, but neither county is part of the ban.
As the famous lawyer once said, “I rest my case.”
A better choice?
In Claiborne, Hinds and Yazoo counties, plenty of county and state roads — and several prominent rivers and streams — lie just outside the 25-mile buffer zone circle and could be used as easily describably boundary lines to tighten and shrink the footprint of the containment zone. Ease of enforcement, boundary-wise, could be balanced a little better with logic.