If you know deer, chances are you’ve already guessed the culprit. And in one state, wildlife officials are culling hundreds to slow the spread.
Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a highly contagious disease for which there is no cure. Many states contend with outbreaks each year, but it’s a relatively new problem in Idaho. CWD was first detected in the state in 2021 via cervids of the the Slate Creek area. This year, the state’s Fish and Game branch is culling populations to prevent CWD from becoming an even larger issue.
In their operation spanning to March 1, 289 deer and 3 elk were killed and removed from the Slate Creek drainage area for this purpose. According to their media release, all deer and elk harvested are tested for CWD.
“Out of the 163 test results so far, 19 white-tailed deer tested positive, which suggests about 12 percent of the deer in the area are infected with the fatal disease,” their report cites.
“Although it is tough to see CWD prevalence this high in the area, it validates the importance of this ongoing project to lower deer densities in Slate Creek and reduce the spread of the disease,” offers J.J. Teare, Clearwater regional supervisor.
Deer that Test Negative for CWD Donated to Idaho Food Banks
As field and lab work continues, “We expect to have more sample results back from the lab within the next week or so,” Teare adds.
To tackle CWD, Idaho Fish and Game provides special permits to landowners allowing each to kill deer on their property. U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services staff is also assisting Fish and Game personnel in culling on private and public land.
To do so, baiting and shooting takes place under the cover of night. As for the public becoming involved, Fish and Game says that’s a non-starter, citing “limited access because most animals are on or near private land.”
The Idaho public will still greatly benefit from this study, however. Aside from CWD’s spread slowing, the meat from negative-testing deer goes to local to food banks.
Chronic Wasting Disease In-Depth:
For hunters, conservationists, and farmers alike, CWD has become a dominating thought. News of the last few years – from infection penetrating the U.S. National Elk Refuge to cases surging among popular hunting states – is chock-full of disease-addled headlines.
This is largely due to the disease’s unpredictable nature. Scientists have become more familiar with the disease in the past decade, yet it remains untreatable, fatal, and hard to predict.
As for what chronic wasting disease actually is, once contracted, CWD attacks the nervous system of its host. This results in neurological deterioration of the animal until eventual death. The primary symptom in wildlife is progressive, drastic weight loss, or “wasting”.
Other CWD symptoms vary, but may include stumbling, excessive salivation, deterioration of senses, and resulting behavioral changes.
Currently, CWD is prominent in white-tailed deer. Other closely related cervids, such as mule deer, elk, and moose, are also susceptible to the disease.