USGS Scientists Break Down Severity of CWD Outbreak in Deer and Cervid Populations

by Jon D. B.

The numbers are shocking: USGS is shedding light on the severity of our current CWD outbreak among cervids in a staggering report.

According to their latest report, the USGS is monitoring CWD like never before – and for good reason. Together, USGS’s Bryan Richards and his colleagues are “working to understand the biology of CWD, assess and predict the spread of the disease and develop tools for early detection and control.”

Richards is the emerging disease coordinator at the USGS National Wildlife Health Center. And hopefully, with his lead, the U.S. can get ahead of CWD before it reaches irreversible endemic levels.

Chronic Wasting Disease, commonly abbreviated CWD, is an always-fatal neurological disease prominent in white-tailed deer that affects all cervids. The cervidae family includes other closely-related deer species, such as mule deerelk, caribou (reindeer), and moose.

Once contracted, CWD attacks the nervous system of its host, resulting in neurological deterioration of the animal until eventual death. The primary symptom in wildlife is progressive, drastic weight loss, or “wasting”. Other symptoms vary, but may include stumbling, excessive salivation, deterioration of senses, and resulting behavioral changes.

“Its neurological impacts result in brain damage that causes affected animals to slowly waste away to death,” details USGS of the deadly disease. It’s an apt description of a horrific contagion in short, and Richard’s statements only serve to bolster it.

USGS Scientists Detail Impact of Chronic Wasting Disease

“Big game like deer and elk are valued by people for food, and they’re culturally important to tribal communities and hunters in North America,” Richards begins. “Cervids are also intrinsically valuable. That’s why we care about this disease.”

While CWD does not affect the bodies of humans or livestock (as far as we know), it has still become an immense danger to our societies.

“Cervids are fundamental to America’s outdoor recreation economy (PDF), which generates billions of dollars in consumer spending annually and billions more in federal, state and local tax revenue, according to the Outdoor Industry Association,” USGS states. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that wildlife-related recreationalists spent $156.9 billion on their hunting, wildlife watching/photographing and angling activities in 2016. Big game, including deer and elk, was the most common type of hunting.”

Moreover, Richards clarifies this by stating “Healthy environments bolster healthy economies. Unhealthy animal populations do the opposite.”

Unfortunately, CWD is now spreading at a rapid pace. In fact, it is far outpacing what current testing and monitoring methods can trace.

“The CWD problem is significant and the disease is growing and spreading,” Richards adds.

To this end, USGS is getting up to task (see below). has an extensive CWD article available for all hunters who wish to stay knowledgeable of the disease, as well.

The Alarming Scope of CWD

“CWD is spreading and has been detected in more than half of U.S. states. As well as in Canada, South Korea, Norway, Finland and Sweden,” USGS continues. There is no treatment, nor vaccine for the the disease, either.

As it stands, adult male cervids are the most vulnerable to CWD.

“More than 40% of free-ranging cervids in this category are infected with CWD in the heavily affected areas of Colorado, Wisconsin and Wyoming. As of July 2020, CWD was detected in 26 U.S. states. [As well as] three Canadian provinces, a sobering statistic that includes free-ranging cervids and/or commercial captive cervid facilities,” USGS adds.

As a result, USGS is acting in unprecedented ways against the disease and its spread. In October of 2020, the America’s Conservation Enhancement Act became law. Within, the U.S. government calls for an official CWD task force – one that is long overdue.

“Section 104 of this new law authorizes $5 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a fellow DOI bureau, to execute an interstate action plan for CWD and $1.2 million for the USGS to carry out a CWD Academia Resource Study on the disease’s spread,” USGS states. “The USGS study will provide science-based recommendations to help minimize the risk of CWD transmission within or between cervid herds.”

Hopefully, this new task force will help American conservationists move toward containing CWD in a timely manner.

To view all states impacted by CWD, see our Chronic Wasting Disease: All the States Affected by the Fatal Deer Illness This Year.

For extensive information on CWD, also see our Chronic Wasting Disease: What Is the Fatal Disease and What Causes it?