Originally created 09/01/02

Caution should be taken with game birds



Are birds any more dangerous than bugs?

As dove season approaches, wildlife authorities are getting plenty of calls from dove hunters inquiring about potential dangers from the West Nile virus.

The mosquito-borne ailment, which typically infects birds, has killed 24 people nationwide - and the number of confirmed cases has escalated to 480. The virus has infected people in both South Carolina and Georgia.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory to hunters to use caution while cleaning birds to avoid possible infection through contact with bird blood.

"There's no evidence just by handling a dead bird or touching a dead bird you can contract West Nile," added CDC spokesman Butch Kinerney, but hunters cleaning birds should wear gloves as a precaution.

Though West Nile doesn't kill large numbers of game birds, they can carry the virus, according to the CDC. Doves, ducks, geese, turkeys and other game birds have tested positive for the disease.

Georgia's Department of Natural Resources says the chance of contracting West Nile is far greater from mosquito bites than from handling birds.

"The Wildlife Resources Division recommends hunters use basic precautions," said Todd Holbrook, DNR's chief of game management.

It is unlikely any healthy-acting game birds would be infected, but hunters should avoid allowing bird blood to contact open wounds or membrane areas such as eyes, he said.

Since thorough cooking will inactivate the virus (and most other pathogens) it is advisable to cook their birds thoroughly.

The real danger comes from mosquitoes, so using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeve clothing can help avoid bites.

West Nile doesn't affect most people who contract the virus, but a small percentage - usually people over age 50 - become ill with symptoms of encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

South Carolina health officials confirmed the virus Aug. 6 in Lexington County. Since then, 19 birds have tested positive for the virus. In Georgia, two deaths - in Atlanta and Columbus - have been attributed to the disease.

PHINIZY PARKING PULLED

Georgia's Department of Transportation pulled the plug last week on a year-old agreement that allowed patrons of the Phinizy Swamp Wildlife Management Area to park along Bobby Jones Expressway.

The 1,500-acre public archery and waterfowl area had been accessible only through a gate at Gravel Pit Road off New Savannah Road; and a narrow dirt road behind Augusta's Messerly wastewater treatment plant.

In July of 2001, the Department of Natural Resources' law enforcement section announced a rule - sanctioned by the Richmond County Sheriff's Office - to allow parking on Bobby Jones provided vehicles were off the pavement.

"It worked fine and we haven't had any complaints," said DNR Ranger Ben Payne, who patrols the popular area.

However, Georgia's Department of Transportation - which purchased the property in the 1980s as mitigation land for the extension of Bobby Jones Expressway - did receive a complaint.

DOT District II communications director Vonda Everett said a 1989 memorandum of agreement in which DOT transferred management authority of the property to DNR clearly forbids such practices.

"In the written agreement, it clearly states, 'access to managed lands in Phinizy Swamp shall be from roads other than Bobby Jones Expressway. No public parking or access will be allowed from Bobby Jones."'

DOT apparently became aware of the parking situation last week after receiving inquiries from a local politician on behalf of a constituent.

"There were a lot of problems out there," said Angel Hamilton, who leases private hunting land adjoining the public parcel. Trespassing and litter on her lease prompted her to ask Sen. Joey Brush to contact DOT.

"There was a lot of concern over, among other things, liability out there in the event there was an accident, with people turning around and parking before daylight," Brush said.

DNR's Payne said Friday he had been contacted by DOT and informed that parking on Bobby Jones would no longer be allowed, due not only to the written agreement, but for traffic and safety concerns.

WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST HONORED

David Brady, the Army Corps of Engineers' district wildlife biologist, retired recently after 32 years of federal service.

During his retirement luncheon, the veteran sportsman was honored by some of his biggest fans, including members of the Paralyzed Veterans Association.

PVA members Don Poe and Kurt Glass of Augusta gave Brady a plaque in recognition of many years of efforts to organize hunting, fishing and other outdoor opportunities for disabled sportsmen, women and children.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119 or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.