Early snow in the West’s high country sent deer, elk and moose down to lower elevations where hunters are waiting this hunting season. Hunters see themselves as rugged individualists out to shoot a trophy animal, but for wildlife agencies they are foot soldiers going out this time of year as a surveillance army in the ongoing war against Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The “Mad Cow Disease” of deer, elk, and moose, CWD is now found in both wild and captive herds in North America. Since the prion disease attacks the brains and nervous systems of deer, elk, and moose, having observers out to look at herds is important. Hunters of cervids, as deer, elk, and moose are called collectively, are advised not to shoot any animal acting abnormally nor if its sick. 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. Hunters are urged to record the locations of any abnormal or sick cervids observed. So-called “hunter-harvested” surveillance goes a step further when an animal is actually shot and killed. Some states, like North Dakota for example, ask hunters to voluntarily give up test samples so wildlife agencies can test for CWD. If you volunteer to have your deer tested for CWD in North Dakota, the state enters your name in a drawing for either a muzzleloader or chain saw. In an area along the Manitoba border with Saskatchewan, testing is mandatory. It applies to an area from The Pas to Swan River and the Manitoba Conservation Department has set up a collection depot for hunters to drop off their take. “We’ve instituted a regulation where hunters are required to submit samples for testing,” says Rich Davis, a wildlife biologist with the Conservation Department, “I’d just like to assure any hunters that we will test the animal and get back to them as soon as possible if the animal is positive.” Other jurisdictions regulate “carcass movement.” Wisconsin for example, implemented regulations on Sept. 1st that govern “the transport of hunter-harvested and vehicle-killed deer from the Chronic Wasting Disease management zone of southern Wisconsin…” The Badger State does not allow tissues most likely to contain CWD from being transported from the area of the state of CWD to CWD-free areas. A group known as the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance, a coalition of 15 organizations, keeps track of the CWD regulations in the U.S. and Canada. According to the Alliance: “The number one objective in the management of CWD is to prevent its spread into new areas. One theoretical mode of disease transmission is via infected carcasses. Therefore, in an effort to minimize the risk of disease spread, a number of states have adopted regulations affecting the transportation of hunter-harvested deer and elk. “Since the suspected infective agent (prion) is concentrated in the brain, spinal cord and lymph glands, the most common regulation is the prohibition of the importation of whole carcasses harvested from CWD areas. Some states, like Colorado, also have established regulations addressing the transport of deer and elk out of CWD areas. Generally, states that have adopted carcass transportation regulations do not allow the importation of any brain or spinal column tissue and allow transport of only the following:
- Meat that is cut and wrapped (either commercially or privately).
- Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
- Meat that has been boned out.
- Hides with no heads attached.
- Clean (no meat or tissue attached) skull plates with antlers attached.
- Antlers with no meat or tissue attached.
- Upper canine teeth, also known as “buglers,” “whistlers,” or “ivories.”
- Finished taxidermy.
Discovered by Colorado researchers in 1967, chronic wasting disease has since been detected in 14 states in the U.S. and in two Canadian provinces, predominantly in the West. In wild herds, it can sometimes be found in up to 30 percent of animals; in captivity nearly entire herds can be affected. There is no evidence that CWD is transmissible to humans.