Hunters at the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, east of Rio Hondo, must follow emergency measures issued Monday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in response to cattle fever ticks in Cameron County.
The rules apply to archery and firearm hunting during the 2014-2015 season, with a temporary quarantine of the refuge by the Texas Animal Health Commission. The USFWS announced rules have been implemented and changes have been made to the deer and nilgai check-in process for the hunts because these wildlife carry ticks. The emergency rules do not apply to feral hogs.

This emergency measures follow an announcement Friday by TAHC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they had confirmed the presence of cattle fever ticks outside the permanent quarantine zone. In order to protect the land, premises, and animals from exposure to cattle fever ticks, the TAHC created a temporary preventative quarantine area of about 223,000 acres, including the northeastern part of the county. TAHC said that the temporary quarantine will be in effect until all premises within it are released from fever tick quarantines and the area is determined to no longer be at risk of infestation. Within this area, they said, all livestock, cattle and equine, and live or hunted wildlife such as nilgai antelope and white-tailed deer that can host fever ticks are subject to movement restrictions, inspections and treatment as prescribed by TAHC.

USFWS stated Monday that hunting area known as Unit 1 will be closed to hunting. Hunt units 2 through 6 cannot be accessed from FM 106 known as Gen. Brandt Road. Instead, hunt units can be accessed from Buena Vista Road, Lakeside Drive and County Road.
Under the regulations, hunters must take a tarp at least nine feet by 12 feet, free of holes and tears, and place the tarp on the truck bed/trailer as a protective barrier to eliminate contact with a carcass when transporting it on refuge lands. Deer and nilgai carcasses cannot come into contact with any surface of any vehicle.

Hunters must skin deer and nilgai at a designated cleaning area near the check station and all deer and nilgai will be inspected by TAHC-USDA staff for cattle fever ticks. Hunters’ vehicles also will be inspected and inspectors could require that vehicles be treated with insecticide. Any hides or heads that hunters wish to remove must be frozen solid on-site for a minimum of 24 hours in order to kill fever ticks. A freezer will be located at the check station, USFWS further noted in Monday’s announcement. Hunters can choose to leave the hide and head and take the skinned carcass after inspection.

The federal agency also noted that hunters who have purchased archery or firearm permits will be notified of the changes by mail. Refuge staff can be contacted at 956-748-3608.