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Montana hunters getting ready for big-game season have a new detail to check: Updates on chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.

The Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 2 around Missoula will set up two new inspection stations between Drummond and Philipsburg to search for signs of the disease, similar to surveillance operations in Regions 4 and 5. The area was chosen because of the legacy of a former elk game farm closed for suspected CWD infection in the 1990s.

“We’re trying to see how prevalent it is,” Region 2 Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson said. “The information from other states we’ve seen shows if you react when it’s at a low level of prevalence, you can kind of arrest or slow the spread.

"If it’s under 5 percent of the population, there’s an opportunity in the future to elevate harvest rates with goal of really slowing the spread. If it’s over 5 percent, then you’re kind of wasting your time.”

Chronic wasting disease is a contagious neurological disease that affects whitetail and mule deer as well as elk. It is fatal to animals and has no cure. Although related to mad cow disease in domestic cattle, CWD has not been shown to spread from animals to people.

In 2017, FWP biologists detected CWD in deer in two separate areas; south of Billings and north of Chester. The agency imposed transport restrictions on deer in those areas to prevent further spread. It also set up an expanded network of game inspection stations to survey for infected animals.

The Region 2 stations will operate between Drummond and Hall on Highway 1 and by the Porter’s Corner intersection with Skalhako Highway south of Philipsburg. FWP will not use its traditional Anaconda game check station this year. The stations mainly will be staffed on weekends.

Inspectors are particularly concerned about deer and elk from hunting districts 210, 212 and 217 in the upper Clark Fork River watershed. Thompson said hunters willing to provide samples from game taken in those districts could bring them to the Region 2 headquarters in Missoula on weekdays when the check stations aren’t staffed.

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