The best part of the year for many of our readers officially began this week with the opening of archery deer season on Sept. 15, with firearm season to follow.

Deer hunting is a strong part of our local culture and heritage. So strong that some businesses have to modify production schedules to accommodate the absence of deer hunter employees. Deer hunting also is big business.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the sales of hunting permits, archery gear, firearms, hunting clothing, sporting equipment and taxidermy services pump about $1 billion into the state’s economy each year.

That is why the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is diligently working to limit the spread of chronic wasting disease or CWD. CWD is a deadly disease in white-tailed deer and other members of the deer family.

The disease has no vaccine or cure and eventually kills all deer it infects. CWD is spread from deer to deer and through the environment. A CWD-infected deer will lose weight and stagger around, eventually dying from the disease.

Conservation officials say there is no evidence that CWD affects humans, but the disease has decimated deer herds in other states, which worries Missouri wildlife biologists. They know CWD poses a real threat to the future of deer hunting in our state.

So far, Missouri’s wild deer population of about 1.2 million remains relatively safe from CWD. The MDC has tested more than 130,000 deer for the disease since the first cases were detected in 2010 and 2011 in two Northeast Missouri counties. It has documented 116 cases of CWD — including cases in Franklin County.

The MDC has added regulations to the state’s wildlife code as part of its efforts to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease. The new regulations restrict the transportation and disposal of deer carcasses into and within the state — carcasses being a way for the disease to be carried from one location to another.

It also is offering free voluntary CWD sampling and testing of deer harvested in Missouri in designated CWD management zones where the disease has been found and at MDC regional offices during regular business hours and through participating taxidermists and meat processors.

Testing becomes mandatory for hunters who harvest deer in Franklin County during the opening weekend of the November portion of firearms season (Nov. 16 and 17).

In Franklin County, hunters can obtain free sampling at three locations, according to a MDC news release: Kantor’s Taxidermy in Villa Ridge, Koch Taxidermy in Sullivan and Pemberton Processing in Gray Summit.

We join MDC in strongly recommending hunters take advantage of this free testing. It will take cooperation and teamwork by hunters and the department of conservation to eradicate this insidious disease to ensure the future of deer hunting in our state.