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FWP warns local hunters of disease risk

 

August 29, 2019

Annie Wooden

PUBLIC OUTREACH - Neil Anderson, Wildlife Program Manager for FWP Region 1, speaks to hunters and residents about Chronic Wasting Disease last Wednesday at the Lakeside in Trout Creek.

Though Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has not been detected in any deer in Sanders County, "it's something we need to take seriously." That was the sentiment of Neil Anderson, Wildlife Program Manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Region 1. Anderson spoke to about 30 residents in Trout Creek last Wednesday to talk about the CWD cases in the Libby area and what hunters here can do to help stop the spread of the disease.

Anderson said there have been six confirmed cases of CWD in deer in Libby, with about 70 animals being tested. FWP is taking steps to get a better sample in order to see how prevalent the disease is. There is no live test for the disease, meaning animals must be killed in order to test them for CWD. FWP sold 600 anterless B tags earlier this month to hunters. Those animals, which will be harvested during hunting season, will be tested for CWD. Anderson noted that the special licenses sold out in just over two hours. Tags were available at vendors throughout Northwest Montana beginning at 8 a.m. on Aug. 19, then available online at 10 a.m. All of the licenses were sold out by 10:13 a.m. Anderson stated that the majority of licenses were purchased by local hunters in the Libby area, but they did sell a couple to hunters in Florida and Alaska. None of the hunters in attendance at the meeting Wednesday at the Lakeside in Trout Creek had purchased one of the special licenses.

According to Anderson, the first case of CWD in Montana was in 2017. At that time, FWP started doing surveillance. He said the disease has been surrounding Montana – it's been found in Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Canada. The neurological disease progresses slowly in ungulates (deer, moose, elk and sheep), and there is no cure. "It's a nasty thing," Anderson said, "and nobody knows how to get rid of it."

The primary means of transmitting CWD, Anderson said, is animal-to-animal contact. The disease is more prevalent in bucks, but does that are positive will pass it on to their fawns. There is no evidence that the disease can cross species, Anderson noted, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend not eating the meat of an animal that tests positive for CWD. Anderson said that is because there is always a small but potential risk of the disease jumping species.

FWP has set up a CWD Management Zone in the Libby area. That is where the 600 special licenses are valid and where FWP is focusing their efforts to control the disease. Anderson said that hunters need to be prepared if they are going to hunt in the management zone. FWP is restricting carcass removal from the area, which includes a 10-mile radius around the area where deer have tested positive for CWD. Along with the special licenses, FWP has a goal of collecting 200 samples from hunter harvested animals in the management zone.

While FWP is focusing on the Libby Management Zone this year, Anderson said that the agency may collect some samples from roadkill deer in Sanders County and other areas outside of the management zone next year, depending on how prevalent the disease is.

"This could have happened in any community in Northwest Montana," Anderson said. He noted that deer feeding is an issue. Animals congregating helps the disease spread. Greg Hinkle, a former Montana state senator from Trout Creek, said he saw this coming. Hinkle in 2009 sponsored legislation changing Senate Bill 202, which prohibits the feeding of certain wildlife. Hinkle added ungulates to the list.

"We put a lot of black on declining populations on predators and wolves," Hinkle said. "But this is far more serious." He said his legislation in 2009 to change the bill against feeding wildlife also helped protect ranchers as he added that supplemental feed attractant as outlined in the legislation "does not include growing plants or plants harvested for the feeding of livestock."

The agency has been working with game processors in Northwest Montana on how to handle animals harvested in the management zone. Anderson said that CWD testing takes anywhere from 10 days to three weeks, so hunters will need to be prepared to handle their meat if the animal is being tested. He said that some meat processors will not accept animals until the hunter has a confirmed negative CWD test.

CWD tests can be done from the lymph nodes or the brain stem of an animal. FWP Biologist Bruce Sterling said at the Trout Creek meeting that there is a video on the FWP website offering instruction of how to remove the lymph nodes from an animal, or the animals can be tested at a special check station in the management zone around Libby. FWP has testing kits ready, and hunters will be given a card with a case number on it. Once the CWD test is complete, results will be available online, or Anderson said that hunters whose animals test positive will be called by FWP.

Anderson stressed that in order to help stop the spread of CWD, carcasses should not be removed from the management zone. He said the goal is not to eradicate the disease, but to reduce the prevalence. FWP aims to maintain the disease and have 5% or less of the wildlife population affected.

Anderson said FWP is using public meetings such as the one in Trout Creek to educate hunters and help get the word out. "Before, Northwest Montana was a low priority area," for CWD surveillance, Anderson noted, "but that changed when we found a positive animal."

Nick Gevock is the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, which helped purchase game bags for use in the Libby Management Zone. "We all knew this day would come for CWD. The Libby case really did catch us off guard," Gevock said. "This really is our biggest threat to our big game population. We want to get on this and do whatever we can."

Dillon Tabish with FWP said that everyone who purchases a general hunting license in Montana will receive an info sheet regarding CWD in the mail.

"There's nothing convenient about this disease, but we're trying to protect this area," Anderson said. For more information, go to fwp.mt.gov and click on "CWD."

 

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