Officials Work To Combat Chronic Wasting Disease In Game Animals

Chronic wasting disease is becoming a serious problem for state game officials throughout the nation, to say nothing of troubling hunters. The condition is easily transmittable among game populations and the results aren’t good.

In places where the disease is a problem, officials are working to combat it. But first, they need to test for it.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have stepped up testing for chronic wasting disease on deer and elk carcasses taken by hunters.

Montana also has stepped up monitoring this year as the contagious neurological disease that causes elk and deer to lose weight and eventually die has been found in pockets of the country from central Pennsylvania to the Mountain West.

A chronic wasting disease sample collected by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in late October from a hunter-killed mule deer south of Billings was found to be suspect for chronic wasting disease, the agency reported on Wednesday.

No cases have been reported in Oregon or Washington, but Greg Jackle, an ODFW biologist based in Prineville, said the disease can spread easily, and the department isn’t taking chances.

“The moment we start not sampling (deer and elk) at the highest rate, that’s when you miss something,” Jackle said.

Washington has been testing animals on a case by case basis if they show symptoms such as emaciation, said Madonna Luers, department state Fish and Wildlife Department spokeswoman in Spokane. But officials said they are considering more monitoring.

A bit more about the mule deer in Montana that tested positive for the disease.

A mule deer buck harvested south of Billings in October has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, officials confirmed Wednesday. CWD is deadly and contagious to deer, elk and moose.

Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks says a sample collected from the hunter-killed deer 10 miles southeast of Bridger tested positive during an initial round of testing. A second, more thorough test is now being done on the sample at Colorado State University to confirm the presence of the infection.

If that sample comes back positive, it will be the first documented case of Chronic Wasting Disease found in wildlife in Montana.

This isn’t fun for anyone, but hunters should remember that while there’s been no evidence of deer-to-human transference of the disease, that doesn’t mean the meat is safe to eat. The Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance provides the following symptoms to be on the lookout for:

The most obvious and consistent clinical sign is weight loss over time. CWD affected animals continue to eat but amounts of feed consumed are reduced, leading to gradual loss of body condition. Excessive drinking and urination are common in the terminal stages.

Behavioral changes also occur in the majority of cases, including decreased interactions with other animals, listlessness, lowering of the head, blank facial expression and repetitive walking in set patterns. In elk, behavioral changes may also include hyper-excitability and nervousness. Excessive salivation, drooling and grinding of the teeth also are observed.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of safe deer to hunt, and you should enjoy your hunt, but also keep a wary eye out.