With general big game season over in Montana, the primary surveillance effort for chronic wasting disease is complete, although results are still coming in.
From July 1 through Dec. 3, testing has detected 134 positive cases so far. Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks employees have processed more than 7,000 samples. Since 2017, FWP has sampled 17,960 deer, elk and moose combined statewide, with 316 positives.
This season, CWD-positive animals were newly detected in hunting districts 309, 314, 326, 320, and 622.
The average testing turn-around time was seven days this year, as opposed to 19 days last year. Moose samples took significantly longer to test than deer and elk, both because samples had to be shipped to Colorado State University and because the test for moose is a bit different and is more labor and time intensive.
“This year, with the COVID pandemic, we had more logistical challenges than normal, but overall the sampling went well,” said Ken McDonald, FWP wildlife division administrator. “We were able to get hunters their sample results quicker by utilizing the new testing capabilities of the Montana Department of Livestock’s diagnostic lab in Bozeman. We have really appreciated their help, as have hunters. We had some new areas with detections as well, which does reinforce the assumption that the disease is widespread across the state.”
This season, FWP focused on three CWD surveillance areas – northwest Montana, southwest Montana and eastern Montana. A map of those areas can be found here.
In southwest Montana, FWP is looking to both get more hunter-submitted samples from whitetail deer and reduce whitetail deer numbers. The department is asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their December 10 meeting to extend whitetail deer harvest opportunities in several hunting districts:
320—Those portions within the Jefferson River watershed. Portions within the Madison River watershed would be excluded.
325—Those portions within the Blacktail Deer Creek watershed and north of Clark Canyon Creek. Portions within the Beaverhead River watershed south of Clark Canyon Creek would be excluded.
330—Those portions within the Ruby River watershed. Portions within the Madison River watershed would be excluded.
During this season extension, both general deer and deer B licenses 003-00, 331-01, and 399-00 will remain valid in these hunting districts. Hunters will be encouraged to submit samples according to guidelines found here.
The focus of further sampling in these hunting districts will allow for a broader understanding of CWD distribution in the area, reduce deer densities, particularly within river bottom areas, and provide a better understanding of disease prevalence.
This year, FWP has collected about 335 samples from whitetail deer in HD 322, which is in the lower Ruby Valley near Sheridan. To date 78 of those were found positive for CWD.
Hunters ca tap into an excellent resource about CWD in Montana on the FWP website at fwp.mt.gov/CWD. Here hunters can access interactive maps, information on how or where to submit samples, and to check their test results.
CWD is a 100 percent fatal disease that infects members of the deer family, including elk, moose, mule and white-tailed deer. CWD is not a virus, bacteria, or fungus. It is caused by infectious, mis-folded proteins, called prions, that spread throughout the animal and result in organ damage and eventual death. The disease is slow acting, degenerative, and always fatal. The name comes from the appearance of symptomatic animals, which get very skinny and sick-looking before they die. There is no vaccine or cure for CWD.
There is no known transmission of CWD to humans. However, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hunters harvesting a deer, elk, or moose from an area where CWD is known to be present have their animal tested for CWD prior to consuming the meat, and to not consume the meat if the animal tests positive.
Some simple precautions should be taken when field dressing harvested animals:
Wear rubber gloves and eye protection.
Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed. Instruments should be washed in a 40% bleach solution for 5 minutes.
Avoid processing and consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals.