Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in Wild White-tail

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A deer harvested by a hunter this past hunting season in Fall River County has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) causes damage to portions of the brain of both deer and elk, and leads to the death of the animal. The disease is contagious among elk and deer. It has been detected for a number of years in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. More recently, CWD has been detected in western Nebraska, with the latest detection occurring two months ago in northwestern Nebraska near the South Dakota border. Until this positive test in Fall River County, there had been no sign of CWD in free-roaming herds of deer or elk in this state through extensive testing from 1997-2001.

"Because of the contagious nature of this disease, we felt there was a very real possibility it might show up in our state," said Dr. Sam Holland, State Veterinarian with the Animal Industry Board. "The Animal Industry Board and the Department of Game, Fish and Parks have taken this threat very seriously and have closely monitored this situation for several months."

In fact, the heads of over 500 deer were collected from South Dakota hunters this past fall to test for CWD. There were 76 deer collected in Fall River County alone. The infected deer was one of these 76, and there are more to still be tested.

"We will continue to aggressively test for the presence of this disease in our state," said John Cooper, Secretary of the Department of Game, Fish and Parks." Our plan is to work closely with the area landowners to determine the extent of the disease. We will be harvesting between 50-100 additional deer in southern Fall River County to test for presence of CWD."

Cooper said an action plan for dealing with CWD has been in the works and, depending on the outcome of the testing, is in the process of being implemented. Besides collecting more deer heads for testing, the action plan will probably involve additional measures to prevent CWD from further entering the state and spreading, should it occur. Cooper noted this would be done in cooperation with the Animal Industry Board and area landowners.

"We have watched the situation in neighboring states very closely," Cooper said. "In particular we have tracked the monitoring of the deer herd in northwestern Nebraska by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, since infections of CWD have been reported within 10 miles of the South Dakota border. We are in the process of gathering information to determine what action we will need to take."

Cooper noted that states where CWD has been identified have not had to halt their deer or elk hunting seasons and, in fact, have used informed hunters in a number of deer management units to help reduce the deer population and, hopefully, incidence of CWD. Currently, there is no evidence that CWD can be transmitted to humans, or to animals other than deer and elk.

"At this time we plan to proceed with our basic deer and elk management plans and seasons but with possible modification in any management units where CWD is found," Cooper said. "We want to be proactive in working to eliminate CWD from South Dakota. Our goal is to do that and not disrupt our wildlife management programs."