CWD is a fatal neurological disease that has long been known to affect deer, elk and moose. CWD affects these animals by producing brain lesions. Some of the characteristics of infected animals are loss of body conditioning, behavioral abnormalities and, ultimately, death.
CWD is classified as a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy and is similar to mad cow disease in cattle and scrapie disease in sheep. Currently there is no evidence to suggest that CWD affects humans, cattle and other domestic livestock.
While the possibility of human infection remains a concern, there hasn’t been any known case of CWD being transmitted to humans, said Neil Anderson, supervisor of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks Wildlife Laboratory in Bozeman.CWD has been detected in wild deer populations in Saskatchewan and in other surrounding states, and there is ongoing concern that the disease could spread to Montana.
“CWD has not yet been found in wild deer, elk or moose in Montana” Anderson said. “Early detection is crucial in developing a management strategy for any CWD outbreaks in the state. The Medicine Lake National Wildlife Refuge has limited funding for CWD testing this year, and we are working with them to conduct surveillance near the refuge.”
Hunters are asked to donate the heads of mule deer or white-tailed deer harvested in Hunting Districts 640, 641 and 651 for CWD testing. Collection barrels for heads will be available at the Medicine Lake Recreation Area along Montana Highway 16 on the southwest side of Medicine Lake.
While in the field and preparing a sample head to donate, hunters are asked to keep in mind the following issues:
· Note precisely the location where the animal was harvested. If possible, they should use GPS coordinates or legal descriptions (township, section and range) and note any nearby drainages or landmarks. The geographical information is needed to pinpoint the harvest location in case the head tests positive for CWD.
· Leave evidence of sex attached to the carcass. Hunters should leave reproductive organs or mammary glands attached to the carcass so that sex can be determined even after the head is removed.
· Remove the head at the first vertebrae. This will allow technicians to remove the intact brain stem, which is then tested for the disease.
· Leave name, ALS number and a phone number on tags located at collection barrels. FWP will contact hunters if their sample tests positive for CWD.
· Both male and female members of each species are being collected. Male animals can have their horns carefully removed and the sample remains viable.
“While funding for large-scale CWD surveillance has recently been eliminated, FWP is in the process of developing strategies for future surveillance,” Anderson said.