Tests Indicate No CWD In Deer And Elk Population

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Early results from fall testing show no sign of CWD in Montana’s deer and elk herds.

"Though there is no sign of the disease in the state’s wild, free-ranging herds, the disease has turned up nearby in Utah, South Dakota, Wyoming and Saskatchewan and Alberta," said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Jeff Hagener. "With that proximity, it’s probably only a matter of time before it enters Montana."

While almost 2,000 Montana deer and elk were tested so far this year, more will be tested over the next few months. Although preliminary statewide results show no infection, final results are not expected until this spring.

While testing to date indicates a clean bill of health for Montana’s wild deer and elk herds, Hagener said the agency remains vigilant. Intensive testing will continue during fall hunting seasons, and FWP will also continue year-round testing of all animals that appear sick or emaciated.

In addition to the 9,000 free-ranging deer and elk tested by FWP, another 3,700 captive deer and elk from Montana’s alternative livestock facilities have been tested for CWD since 1999. All those captive animals, except for nine at an alternative livestock ranch in Phillipsburg in 1999, were free of the disease.

Tissue samples are gathered from deer and elk harvested by hunters, from roadkill and from deer and elk selected specifically for testing. All tissue samples from wild Montana ungulates are sent to Colorado State University for analysis.

CWD is a rare brain disease that causes infected deer and elk to lose weight and body functions, behave abnormally and eventually die.

Only recently, in Colorado, a moose was identified as suffering from CWD. The ailment belongs to a family of diseases called "transmissible spongiform encephalopathies," which include mad cow disease in cattle, scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, in humans.

The test for CWD is done by sampling a specific portion of an animal’s brain, tonsils or lymph nodes. There is no practical or reliable way to test live animals or meat. There is no known cure for CWD. Public health officials at the U.S. Center for Disease Control have found no link between CWD in deer and elk and disease in humans, and say there is no evidence that CWD can be naturally transmitted to humans.

FWP has developed a statwide management plan to prevent and respond to CWD, if and when the disease is detected in Montana. The plan is available on the FWP web site under Public Notices, Chronic Wasting Disease Mgmt Plan-EA, or by calling 406-444-2452.

As part of the state’s CWD management plan, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission is considering a ban on transportation into Montana of heads and spinal columns of deer, elk, and moose harvested in states where CWD infection has been identified in ungulates.