The bad news keeps rolling in for Montana's deer populations.
Chronic wasting disease has now been detected in a mule deer buck shot by a hunter on Nov. 12 north of Chester. Chester is north of Fort Benton and west of Havre on the Hi-Line, about 30 miles south of the the Canadian border and the province of Alberta.
The deer was taken in Hunting District 401 in Liberty County, hundreds of miles farther north than earlier detections of the disease in Montana.
The test results mark the fifth incident of CWD discovered in Montana wild deer this fall. The other four deer came from south of Billings, likely spread north from animals in Wyoming where the disease is endemic. Until this year, CWD had not been found in Montana, though the disease exists in wild deer herds in Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
In anticipation of the disease coming to Montana, FWP recently updated its CWD response plan, and FWP director Martha Williams assembled an incident command team to respond to the detection near Billings. FWP is in the process of putting together a team for the latest detection north of Chester.
An incident command team defines an initial response area around where an infected animal was harvested, and may recommend a special CWD hunt to collect enough samples to determine disease prevalence and distribution. The specifics of this hunt would be determined by the team.
FWP has organized a hunt to respond to the detections in south-central Montana. The hunt needs the approval of the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, which meets Thursday in Helena.
It has not yet been determined if a special CWD hunt will occur at the site of the latest detection north of Chester. Currently, there is no general deer hunting season open near where the deer was harvested in HD 401.
CWD can only be effectively detected in samples from dead animals. CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose. It is part of a group of diseases called Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies. TSEs are caused by infectious, mis-folded prion proteins, which cause normal prion proteins throughout a healthy animal’s body to mis-fold, resulting in organ damage and eventual death.
Though there is no evidence CWD is transmissible to humans, it is recommended never to ingest meat from animals that appear to be sick or are known to be CWD positive. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hunters who have harvested a deer, elk or moose from a known CWD-infected area have the animal tested prior to consuming it. If hunters harvest an animal that appears to be sick, the best thing to do is contact FWP and have the animal inspected.
Some simple precautions should be taken when field dressing deer, elk or moose:
• Wear rubber gloves and eye protection when field dressing.
• Minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues.
• Wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed.
• Avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals. (Normal field dressing coupled with boning out of a carcass will essentially remove these parts.)