The Missouri Department of Conservation has changed its mandatory sampling requirements for chronic wasting disease in deer to voluntary sampling during the opening weekend of this year’s November firearms portion of the hunting season.

The change will impact the 30 counties in the CWD management zone in the state and was prompted by concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sampling is no longer required Nov. 14 and 15 for the counties within the CWD management zone.

Kevyn Wiskirchen, CWD mandatory sampling coordinator, said the 71 CWD sampling stations located throughout the zone will remain open. The department encourages hunters to have their deer sampled for CWD on the day of harvest.

“CWD represents a great threat to the health of Missouri’s deer and elk herds and to our hunting culture,” Wiskirchen said. “Sampling deer for CWD allows early detection of the disease and allows for rapid management intervention to slow its spread. Hunters play a critical role in helping MDC find and manage CWD by having their deer sampled.”

He said the department will be taking precautions to ensure the health of both staff and the public during sampling.

Social distancing will be practiced by conservation department staff at all stations. Department staff will wear gloves and face masks at all times.

Hunters and those with them will be asked to remain in their vehicles while their deer is being sampled. Hunters will be asked to provide the county of harvest and will not be asked to identify the harvest location on a map.

Before having deer sampled, the department requires that hunters use Telecheck and field dress the deer before arriving and having access to their hunting permit.

The department asks hunters and others who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, have recently tested positive for COVID-19 or have a known COVID-19 exposure to refrain from visiting sampling stations.

The counties in the CWD management zone are Adair, Barry, Cedar, Chariton, Christian, Clark, Crawford, Franklin, Gasconade, Hickory, Howell, Jefferson, Knox, Linn, Macon, Mercer, Oregon, Ozark, Perry, Polk, Putnam, St. Charles, St. Clair, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Stone, Sullivan, Taney, Warren and Washington.The department will continue to offer statewide voluntary CWD sampling and testing of harvested deer during the entire deer season at select locations throughout the state including participating conservation department offices, cooperating taxidermists and new freezer head-drop locations.

“Although sampling is voluntary this year, to help us detect CWD as early as possible and protect the state’s deer herd we strongly encourage hunters in CWD Management Zone counties to have their deer sampled at one of our stations on opening weekend or at other locations throughout the duration of deer season,” Wiskirchen said.

Sampling and test results are free to the public.

To find a sampling location, visit mdc.mo.gov/cwd or contact a conservation department regional office.

Margaret Slayton can be reached at margaret.slayton@newspressnow.com.