Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has adopted a Chronic Wasting Disease management plan to help protect Montana's wild deer and elk from infection and to manage the disease should it occur here. CWD, a chronic brain disease in deer and elk that is always fatal, has not yet been found in wild herds in Montana.
"We have worked with the best scientific knowledge available and representatives from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, the Montana Department of Livestock and the public to come up with a flexible but comprehensive plan to help prevent CWD and to manage it if it occurs in Montana," said Tim Feldner, FWP’s CWD plan coordinator.
CWD has been detected in Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, and Colorado among other states, and in Saskatchewan and Alberta. No one is sure where CWD came from. It first showed up in the wild in 1981. Since then it has been found in wild herds or alternative livestock ranches, or game farms, in 13 states and two provinces.
"We are working to prevent CWD from entering the state, monitoring Montana's wild game for the disease, and preparing, through research and planning, to manage it if it does occur," Feldner said.
Prevention measures now being implemented include:
* prohibiting all baiting and feeding of wild game animals;
* prohibiting transport into Montana of heads and spinal cords of deer, elk and moose harvested in states or provinces where CWD infected wildlife have been found;
* discontinuing the rehabilitation of orphan deer fawns and elk calves at the Helena wildlife rehabilitaiton center where an infected animal could spread the disease to others that might then be released back into the wild;
* preventing potential contamination of the environment by proper disposal of heads and spinal columns from private and commercial butchering; and
* a critical re-examination of policies on the import and movement of captive wild game within the state.
Feldner said it is essential to properly dispose of waste from wild game to avoid unknowingly contaminating the environment. Research in other states has demonstrated that the CWD prion that causes the infection may remain viable in the soil for years.
"Effective management of CWD once it occurs depends on quick actions and on a high level of cooperation among state, federal and tribal agencies, hunters, landowners and others," Feldner said. "The longer CWD exists in an area, the more potential there is for exposing more animals and expanding the area of infection."
Feldner said Montana's detection program tests road-killed animals and hunter harvest samples collected in "high risk" areas along Montana's borders with Wyoming, South Dakota, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Over the past 8 years, FWP has tested more than 9,300 wild elk or deer in Montana for CWD and has not yet found any evidence of the disease. CWD was diagnosed in 1999 in nine captive elk on an alternative livestock facility near Philipsburg. All the animals there were destroyed and the facility was quarantined. Montana voters passed an initiative the following year that prohibits transfer of existing alternative livestock licenses, ends new licensing, and prohibits shooting captive elk for a fee.
"It appears from the way the disease has spread in the past several years in adjacent states, that it is highly likely CWD will appear here in wild deer and elk herds at some point," Feldner said. "We’re preparing now to manage that situation as effectively as possible."