The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

FWP updates citizen panel on CWD


January 29, 2020

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 7 staff met with its Citizens Advisory Council on Jan. 15, updating members on agency activities and gathering their input on various topics. Seven of the 10 volunteer members attended the annual winter gathering at the FWP regional headquarters in Miles City.

Chronic Wasting Disease

Chronic Wasting Disease was one of the main topics, since the first cases were detected in Southeastern Montana in 2019.

During the general hunting season, portions of FWP Region 7 were high-priority surveillance areas for CWD, based on proximity to known positives in surrounding states. Region 7 hired eight technicians and collected samples at check stations in Ashland, Hysham and Ekalaka and at the Miles City office.

Summing up the efforts, Wildlife Manager John Ensign said, “It was a bit consuming, involving wardens, biologists, front-office staff - basically everyone.”

Despite increased demands, Ensign felt the process worked surprisingly well, and the region was probably fortunate to find just six positive deer.

Those positives were a white-tailed buck in HD 705 in Powder River County, a mule deer buck in HD 704 in Powder River County, a white-tailed buck in HD 702 in Rosebud County, a mule deer buck 60 miles north of Miles City in HD 701 in Prairie County, a white-tailed buck two miles north of Hysham in HD 701, and a white-tailed doe taken near Decker in HD 704.

Statewide, FWP collected more than 7,000 samples from deer, elk and moose, of which 132 were positive.

“It’s bigger than people ever thought it would be in terms of numbers,” said Citizens Advisory Council Member Ed Bukoskey, who also sits on a CWD citizens group.

“We offered free testing to anybody, and I’m glad we did,” Ensign said.

CAC member Ed Joiner said many hunters appreciated that service, which was funded through federal grants.

Region 7 fell just short of collecting enough mule deer samples in high-priority surveillance areas to predict with 95 percent confidence whether CWD prevalence is greater than 1 percent, so sampling will continue next year in the region. FWP’s management goal is to keep herds below 5 percent prevalence and prevent further spread of the disease.

“I don’t think the prevalence down here is going to be all that high,” Ensign said.

Liberal regionwide harvest quotas and public hunting in Region 7 may help to curb the slow-moving disease.

CAC member Dale Kreiman asked if there is a way to speed testing results, which take about three weeks. Ensign said it may take legislation to boost capacity. Right now a Colorado State University lab handles results, but FWP is looking into ways to conduct in-state testing.

Kreiman also questioned whether a big jump in CWD cases could affect people’s desire to hunt. Ensign said this season’s poor weather probably discouraged more hunters than CWD did. He also noted that the first special hunt licenses issued where CWD was found sold out quickly. But only time will tell, he said.

Regional Supervisor Brad Schmitz said the focus right now is on education.

“People are going to have to manage a little more how they process their critters,” Schmitz said.

That includes disposing of carcasses properly, learning to bone out animals and collect lymph nodes for testing, and separating meat from different animals until test results come back.

There have been no cases of CWD transmitting to humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against eating meat from animals that have tested positive.



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