By Doug Leier, NDG&F Dept.
As a biologist, when I hear, see and read information on chronic wasting disease, I try to focus on the facts and the details known at the present time.
That’s an important point to understand in dealing with wildlife diseases. While in North Dakota the number of cases is not yet overwhelming, the goal is to reduce or slow the spread. Rules and regulations that have been put in place are designed to help, and part of the responsibility of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is communicating the facts and relaying the biological concerns.
For chronic wasting disease in North Dakota, the latest information includes that eight deer taken during the 2019 North Dakota deer gun season tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for the Game and Fish Department.
All were antlered deer taken from areas previously known to have CWD – six from unit 3F2 and two from 3A1. Bahnson said six of the eight were mule deer, with two whitetails from unit 3F2. CWD was not detected in any deer harvested in the eastern portion of the state, where hunter-harvested surveillance was conducted last fall. In addition, no elk or moose tested positive.
“Only about 15% of hunters submit heads for testing in units where CWD has been found, so the infection rate is more meaningful than the raw number of positive animals found,” Bahnson said. “Approximately 3% of harvested mule deer were infected with CWD in unit 3F2, and roughly 2% in unit 3A1. Our infection rate in whitetails in 3F2 was about 1%.
“Overall,” Bahnson continued, “we could probably live with these current infection rates long-term, but they suggest an upward trend and we’ve certainly seen an expansion in the known distribution of the disease. We need to continue to try to limit the spread within our herds as best as we can. CWD is a fatal disease of deer, moose and elk that can cause long-term population declines if left unchecked.”
Bahnson said the eight positive deer put the total at 11 detected since Sept 1, 2019. That includes one mule deer taken in September in deer gun unit 4B during the archery deer season, and one taken mule deer taken during the youth deer season in unit 3A1. CWD was also detected in a white-tailed deer from unit 3F2 that was euthanized in December following a report from the public that it appeared sick and was displaying erratic behavior.
Game and Fish will use its 2019 surveillance data to guide its CWD management strategy moving forward.
In closing, Game and Fish extends a thanks to all the hunters providing deer heads for testing, and also for the cooperation the agency has received from meat lockers, taxidermists and other sites facilitating drop sites and collection. It’s this understanding of the importance of testing and monitoring which allows scientists and wildlife managers to collect the best available information to help prevent further spread.
Leier is an Outreach Biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Dept.
Featured Photo: The NDG&F Dept. extends a thanks to all the hunters providing deer heads for CWD testing. NDG&F Photo.