Chronic Wasting Disease could someday change how some of Idaho’s deer, elk and moose populations are managed. Luckily, the disease has not been found in Idaho wildlife – yet, and hunters can help prevent human introduction of the disease by properly handling deer, elk, and moose harvested in other states and Canadian provinces. Many surrounding states have confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, which is a fatal neurological disease that can directly impact the health of their deer, elk and moose populations. While Idaho has not yet detected the disease, Fish and Game is actively monitoring hunter-harvested wildlife, as well as road-killed and suspect animals that might be sick, to ensure that the disease is found early, should it show up.
What is CWD?
CWD is a contagious disease among deer, elk, and moose that affects the nervous system. CWD is believed to be caused by abnormal, misfolded forms of the prion protein, which leads to fatal neurological diseases due to brain damage. When infection occurs in wildlife, it can take up to 10 months for wildlife to show symptoms. There is no cure if Idaho’s wildlife becomes infected.
Hunters will probably be the first to notice if Idaho’s deer, elk or moose are infected. CWD symptoms can include excessive salivation, drooping head or ears, tremors or shaking and extremely low body weight. The animals may also show no fear of humans or lack coordination. But, the only way that CWD can be confirmed is to sample lymph nodes from the animal.
What do hunters need to know?
At this time, there is no known transmission of CWD from deer, elk or moose to humans. Hunters who harvest any of these animals in areas known to have CWD are advised to bone out the meat and to not eat those parts of the brain or spinal cord where prions likely accumulate, such as the lymph nodes.
To protect Idaho’s deer, elk and moose, and reduce the risk of infection from CWD, the Fish and Game Commission, along with the Idaho legislature has put several rules in place to reduce the risk of CWD coming into our state. Bans include:
- The use of natural urine from deer, elk, moose, reindeer and caribou for big game hunting.
- Importing a carcass or any part of a wild deer, elk or moose from another state, Canadian province, or any other country with a documented case of CWD. Exceptions to this rule include:
- Meat that is cut and wrapped
- Quarters or deboned meat that does not include brain or spinal tissue
- Edible organs, excluding the brain
- Hides without heads
- Upper canine teeth
- Ivories, buglers or whistlers
- Finished taxidermy
- Dried antlers
- Cleaned and dried skulls or skull caps
Winter feeding, which leads to unnatural concentrations of wildlife, can increase the risk of spreading diseases, such as CWD. In the event that CWD is found in Idaho, rules will be put in place to restrict the feeding of deer and elk in that area.
Hunters should know and follow all rules in the states in which they hunt regarding carcass transport and disposal. Although Idaho has not detected CWD, properly disposing of carcasses is still important to limit the potential for spread of the disease in the rare chance that an animal killed in Idaho is infected.
What is Fish and Game doing to monitor for CWD?
Testing samples from deer is the first line of defense in monitoring Idaho’s wildlife for CWD, and hunters play a significant role in that effort. Since 1997, Idaho Fish and Game has been testing lymph nodes from hunter-harvested, road-killed or suspected sick mule deer. Most of this testing occurs at mandatory road-side check stations and regional offices.
In 2019, the department will be concentrating our monitoring efforts in northern and eastern Idaho because some neighboring states have confirmed CWD in their deer, elk or moose populations. Hunters who harvest a deer in either of these two areas, and who did not have their animal checked at a check station, are asked to contact their local Fish and Game regional office about voluntarily bringing in the head of their deer to their regional office so that the lymph nodes can be removed and tested for CWD as part of Fish and Game’s sampling plan. Hunters should leave the upper portion of the neck attached to the head so that staff can remove the lymph nodes from the throat. Only adult or yearling animals will be tested. Turnaround time is about 4-6 weeks and hunters will not be contacted if their sample is negative.
Regional staff can also advise hunters about private testing options for CWD, which has a shorter turn-around time. Deer, elk or moose harvested from outside of the northern and eastern study areas can also be tested if the hunter chooses, but the hunter is responsible for the cost of the test, which is approximately $30.00. The cost to test the lymph nodes does not including shipping to a certified laboratory. Hunters must bring the head to their local Regional Office where staff will collect the required lymph nodes; please contact the region ahead of time. More about Fish and Game’s sampling program for CWD can be found at https://idfg.idaho.gov/cwd/sampling.
What is Idaho Fish and Game going to do if CWD is found in Idaho?
If detected, the ultimate goal is to keep CWD at low levels in Idaho’s wildlife. Fish and Game will then initiate an approved plan to determine how widespread CWD is in that specific species population and area. Regional execution of the plan will be dependent on the species of animal infected, the time of year, the known migration or movement patterns, population size, location, and several other key factors.
The key to keeping CWD out of Idaho is twofold: to reduce the chance that CWD enters Idaho from neighboring states known to harbor the disease, and for early detection so that immediate efforts can begin to minimize exposure to other wildlife.
As integral stakeholders in this issue, hunters are also able to be of tremendous assistance in this effort. By following the regulations set forth to minimize the inadvertent introduction of CWD from other states, and by submitting their deer heads to a regional Idaho Fish and Game office for lymph node collection, hunters can be on the front lines for defending Idaho against CWD.