Be Alert for CWD says Heaton

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a Chronic Wasting Disease sample collected by FWP from a hunter-killed Mule deer buck was found to be suspect for CWD
By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

Photo by Eleanor Guerrero - Matt Heaton, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden, asks for hunter and locals to be on the lookout for Chronic Wasting Disease.

“The scary part is it’s probably not if, it’s just a matter of when and where,” said Matthew Heaton, Montana FWP Game Warden as he gave a talk about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) coming to Montana in Red Lodge on Thursday, Nov. 2. “We may find it in Carbon County or along the southeastern part of state.” It has been found seven miles south of Carbon’s border.
Heaton said, “I think there’s a really good chance we might find it eventually.”
CWD has been found to the north, in states to the east and in Wyoming to the south. It is in Yellowstone.”
“We know it’s knocking at our door-we want to step up,” said Heaton.
Chronic Wasting Disease is a fatal virus that affects elk, deer and moose. There is no known cure. It has not been found in antelope.
Although not known to be transmissible to humans it’s similar to Mad Cow disease, which is transmissible.
CWD affects the animal’s lymph, digestive and nervous systems, the spine and the brain. It transmits through feces, tissues, urine and other bodily fluids. Hunters should wear gloves when dressing their kill.
The Brucellosis virus, which causes cows to abort their fetuses, is viable for up two months. Heaton said while “that’s considered a long time for disease to be out there for a cow to contract, with CWD, it’s two years or more!” That, he said, is “one of the most scariest things about the disease.”
If CWD hits, “We’re looking for long term decline,” he said. Some states have lost 40 percent or more of a herd.
“So we think about our big charismatic herds of 200 elk between Silver Run and Sunlight Ranch…down to a hundred! Major impact,” said Heaton.
It means no more wildlife viewing opportunities, no more potential harvest opportunities. If a rancher has a fatal disease on his property, that property has suddenly lost value, as well as some residential properties.
The first known case occurred in a Colorado research facility. CWD is now in 24 states and parts of Canada.
CWD has occurred in Montana before. “We had one hit in a game farm in Ravalli County in the 80’s,” said Heaton. The herd was eradicated. It hasn’t been seen since.
Now, CWD was found “south of the triangle area-just south of Elk Basin (Wyoming) area. Mule deer.”
Mule deer have the highest CWD rate. Border herds may migrate in and out of that positive area.
Heaton asked, “How do we protect our herd? We have a lot of unknowns-hunting, migratory birds…” and the Beartooth face has “high densities of mule deer.”
He said, “We made national headlines. Laughing stock. ‘You don’t have that deer import thing-how stupid.’ We don’t allow any deer urine from out of state. It blocks the scent for hunters…big money. Montana said it can only be manufactured here. Got us a lot of ridicule but there’s a lot of science behind it. It’s a good thing.”
Prevention means restricting transportation. “I shoot a deer in Wyoming. I cannot bring that head and spinal column back to Montana. That is a law-it must be processed there,” said Heaton.
FWP is targeting hunter-harvested animals in Carbon.
“We’re in the Surveillance Phase, rotating through high-risk areas,” said Heaton. “We’re seeking out people that get salvage (road kill) permit.” He asks people to call and allow a sampling.
Symptomatic animals are a concern. “If a land owner or homeowner calls and says an animal is acting funny, we’re going to go screaming out there.” They may put the animal down, take samples and test it.
Testing is not mandatory now. “It’s mandatory in the sense if they pass a check station they have to stop and we’re going to try to sample them. We’re stretched thin,” observed Heaton. “Right now if we make every hunter come to a check station the feeling is it would be an unbearable burden on the supporting public and department staff.” Primarily Mule deer in Carbon and Elk (in HD502) and White Tail deer (in HD510) kills are sought now.
One man told him, “If I tell you where I got it you’ll send everyone there to shoot it and that’s where I get my buck,” but FWP doesn’t care about that. Another said, “If I get sick, I get sick” and refused sampling. He knows people are eating kills from the infected zone.
Heaton said, “What we’re telling any hunter is-if he brings it in any animal that looks sick or smells weird, or anything wrong with it, the law says have it inspected by a meat processor or biologist, we’ll look at it.” If FWP finds it looks sick, they’ll ask to take the animal and give you a new tag. If people are eating sample animals it is at their own risk. “You might want to wait until we get the tests back (in a few weeks).”
Any sampling must be made from a relatively certain location. “If they’re kind of waffle-ly at all…no ‘kinda’ here,” said Heaton, they won’t sample.
If CWD is detected, FWP a procedure used by other CWD states will take effect. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” said Heaton.
They will contain and minimize impact on the rest of state.
He said FWP will maximize recreational opportunities, minimize health risks, maintain public trust and support, and increase understanding of the impact on human health. They will adapt a management plan. “If it’s here, it’s here. There’s no going back.”
Initial Response Area or IRA (Transportation Restriction) “We’ll create a 10 mile zone where the infected animal is found,” said Heaton. A hunter cannot take animal out of that zone unless it’s processed. “Nothing leaves. Head does not go to your favorite taxidermist in Missoula. Probably bleached skulls and meat are the only thing that can leave that zone.”

A hunt will occur in the CWD Zone. Hunters may be allowed up to 7 tags until the sampling goal is reached; then the hunt will stop.
“You will have to have it sampled. The whole goal is to prevent spread and cut down on the prevalence.”
Landowners do not surrender their rights. “But we’ll try to work with those land owners.”
The goal is to keep CWD below 5 percent. If higher, a specific management plan will be created to make goal: hunter harvest; management kills, etc. The plan goes to the commission and out to the public for comment.
FWP may remove aggregations-big herds coming to gather unnaturally, which increases disease spread, using hazing and fencing.
Monitoring and outreach will continue. Heaton said, “That’s another big part-we’re reaching out.” Symptoms of CWD include wasting away, walking in circles, wobbling, emaciated, ribs showing, drooling. But “anything acting bizarre, not like a normal deer should act, we’re going to go out and look at it.”
FWP is looking for road kill, unexplained deaths and harvested adult males and females. The goal is 300 points for each hunting district.
Heaton said there are no health risks known now to humans from eating deer infected with CWD.
But two studies show macaques, similar to humans, getting CWD: one from eating it, another from brain injections. The first study is not complete; the second is from a company selling tests of CWD.
To help meat processors he said, “We tag animals we test and they have decision whether to process or not. That yellow tag means that may or may not come back positive. They have some decision to make about processing.” With CWD, the whole processing business may go away.
Heaton said he must spend 30 percent of his time on non-policing. He is looking for samples and locals on the lookout as extra eyes.
Carbon County is located in FWP Region 5. He said, “If there’s a problem we meet it head on. We’re going out and being proactive. He asks the community, “When you see something let us know!”
UPDATE: On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a Chronic Wasting Disease sample collected by FWP from a hunter-killed Mule deer buck was found to be suspect for CWD. It was harvested 10 miles se of Bridger in Dist. 510, s. of Billings. A second sample is being taken but since it is rare not to find another positive, FWP’s CWD plans are moving forward to form an IRA. A special hunt may occur.

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