Randolph County Ranch Owner Reacts to CWD

by Allison Munn, Anchor-Reporter, KSLA News

RANDOLPH COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Since 2000, deer and elk have been the prime attraction to Buck Hollow Ranch in Randolph County.

"Our goals were not to have the maximum number of animals, our goal was to have the healthiest animals," owner Tom Baker said.

But as Chronic Wasting Disease continues to attack the deer and elk population in Arkansas, concerns are on the rise as to how quickly and how far it'll spread.

Right now, it's concentrated in four counties in Northwestern Arkansas.

Samples from deer have been tested across the state, though. Right now, no others have come back positive.

Buck Hollow Ranch wants to keep it that way.

Tom and his wife Ronda have spent 22 years turning Buck Hollow Ranch into what it is today.

The 2,600-acre private hunting reserve is teeming with flora and fauna and is completely surrounded by a high game fence.

Initially, it was meant to keep poachers out. Now, it's valuable for another reason.

"The game fence is somewhat a protection to us," Baker said.

It’s a protection against Chronic Wasting Disease.

The always fatal neurological disease started making headlines in Arkansas earlier this year after an elk killed in Newton County tested positive for the disease.

It was the first time the disease was ever found in Arkansas' cervid population, wild or captive. While it's dominated game and fish related headlines since then, it's something that was on Tom Baker's radar long before it was discovered in Arkansas.

"In 2000 we bought a better strain of deer and put them into the ranch as well as the elk," Baker said. "At the time we were buying animals, we were trying to make sure we had the healthiest animals we could."

They continue to check the health of any animal killed on the ranch.

"We take a brain sample and a couple of lymph nodes from the throat area and we package them up and send them off to have them tested," Baker said.

Across the United States, Chronic Wasting Disease has attacked populations in more than 20 states, sometimes in captive deer and elk populations.

However, Baker is certain that the herd on his property is healthy.

"We've tested quite a number of them and I don't think we've got it and we want to stay clean," Baker said.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission continues to check for the disease in deer and elk statewide.

They encourage people to especially report any road killed deer, or deer reported dead or sick.

The commission has also proposed regulations to help battle CWD. Those will be voted on later this month.