FWP Increases CWD Surveillance Efforts in Carbon

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a deadly disease for most members of the deer family. Mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose and reindeer are affected. It is creeping towards Montana which is CWD-free so far.
CWD has been found in Wyoming, Canada and the Dakotas. Cases have been found south of Carbon County in Wyoming and cases are spreading. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park (FWP) looks to Carbon to head it off.
Matthew Heaton, FWP Warden, of Red Lodge says, “Carbon County is a sampling priority right now due to the discovery of CWD in Wyoming, 7 miles south of the border with Carbon County. If/when CWD shows up in MT there is a good chance of it coming from the infected wild population in Wyoming.”

This fall, FWP is ramping up its CWD surveillance program again with financial help from the Mule Deer Foundation and The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
FWP’s surveillance plan calls for rotating surveillance efforts amongst three priority areas of the state: south central, southeast and north central/east. This year’s focus will be on the south-central priority area.
Surveillance primarily consists of collecting samples from hunter-harvested deer at game check stations and cooperating meat processors and taxidermists. The Mule Deer Foundation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation donated toward this effort.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends hunters who have harvested a deer, elk, or moose from a known CWD infected area to have the animal tested prior to consuming it. If hunters harvest an animal that appears to be sick, contact FWP and have the animal inspected.

FWP Wildlife Biologist Shawn Stewart commented, “Yes, the Carbon County area was highlighted because of the proximity to cases in Park County Wyoming.  I don’t have all of the specific locations for the Wyoming hits but I know there have been at least two right in Cody.  I think there is one even closer than that.”
Contaminated urine and feces can even infect grass that can bind with the “prions” or proteins that cause abnormalities in the brain, and contaminate other animals that graze upon them. It is difficult to rid the soil and grass of these contaminants. Even when soil was replaced, the disease spread among plants horizontally and then vertically to grazing animals.

According to Food Safety News, “Matt Dunfee, coordinator of the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, told Food Safety News that the new research findings about grass plants provide laboratory and experimental documentation that prions do attach to plants.
‘It underscores the nasty nature of this disease and the challenge it is to manage it on a natural landscape,” he said. “It’s hard to contain, especially when it spreads through the soil or on plants. We haven’t been able to eliminate it on a natural landscape known to be infected.’”
While CWD has not been known to spread to humans eating infected ungulates or infect humans as mad cow disease did in Britain, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or BSE (Mad Cow Disease) was first thought not to be transmittable. CWD is a different prion than the one that caused BSE. In 1995, the threat of BSE caused Britain to kill 4.5 million cattle. One man commented to CCN about his uncle’s farm at the time, “His cows didn’t even have it. They killed every one. That ended his dairy business.”
According to Food Safety: “As for CWD and any risks to humans, there is currently no solid evidence that humans can get it from deer, elk or moose. Most researchers agree with that.” He said CWD and BSE are “distinctly different.”
The CDC and World Health reported no confirmed cases although CDC states because of long incubation period required, “convincing…studies would likely require years of follow-up.”
“We know the best thing we can do is increase our surveillance efforts and help from our partners is critical. The Mule Deer Foundation and RMEF both recognize the importance of doing all we can to find CWD early, if it’s here,” said FWP Game Management Bureau Chief John Vore. “Our best chance of containing the disease once it is detected will be finding it early.”

Additionally, FWP is asking people who get salvage permits for roadkill deer in specific counties to voluntarily submit their heads for testing. Those counties are: Sheridan, Treasure, Daniels, Valley, Toole, Phillips, Liberty, Blaine, Hill, Custer, Rosebud, Musselshell, Golden Valley, Yellowstone, Carter, Sweet Grass, Park, Stillwater, Big Horn, Powder River, Carbon, Granite, and Roosevelt. Reporting poaching is even more important now.

CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose, all members of the deer family, Cervidae.
By 2015, the brain disease (first discovered in captive mule deer in a Colorado research facility in 1967), expanded to 23 states and two Canadian provinces. Wyoming Wildlife Advocate Director, Roger Hayden, told CCN they object to feeding elk at the National Elk Refuge for the same reason that it promotes unnatural gatherings where disease may be transmitted.

According to Wyofile.com, CWD will cause a herd to lose 19 percent of its population each year. “Chronic Wasting Disease will cause a Wyoming deer herd to go virtually extinct in 41 years, a five-year study predicts."
"The investigation, based upon 143 deer, examined the dynamics in the Southern Converse County Mule Deer Herd that lives southwest of Douglas near Laramie Peak. There, a population that once numbered some 14,000 in the early 2000s dwindled to half that size in about a decade.”

The Chronic Wasting Disease study is one of only three that have been conducted on wild deer, elk or moose herds, none of which have yet seen print.
Even acknowledging the study did not include genetic differences or migration into the area, the herd is expected to decline dramatically.
It is recommended to never ingest meat from animals that appear to be sick or are known to be CWD positive. CWD-infected animals often show an exaggerated or wide stance, poor posture or staggering.  As a “wasting disease,” CWD may also mean the cervid is emaciated.
FWP started testing for CWD in 1998 and has compiled more than 17,000 postmortem samples from free-ranging deer, elk and moose – all of which were negative. There is no non-invasive, reliable test for live animals. Unfortunately, federal funding for testing was cut back in 2012, so the agency now limits sampling to high-risk areas or symptomatic animals.
Warden Matt Heaton will give a talk on CWD on Nov. 2, at Red Lodge Rotary.


Upcoming Events

  • Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, July 26, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Rock Creek Group meets Tuesdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. at Calvary Church, 9 N Villard, Red Lodge.
  • Monday, July 29, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - 7:00pm
    Now Group meets at the Bridger United Methodist Church, 222 W. Broadway (west entrance of church) Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Carbon County News

Street Address:

11 N. Broadway, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 970, Red Lodge, MT 59068

Phone: 406-446-2222

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