GRAND FORKS — Deer hunters in eastern North Dakota — and northwest Minnesota, for that matter — could be excused if they don’t pay much attention to chronic wasting disease. To date, the disease that’s fatal to deer, elk and moose hasn’t been found in either place.

The challenge — and the goal — is to keep it that way.

With North Dakota’s deer gun season opening at noon Friday, Nov. 8, hunters in the Grand Forks area and other parts of eastern North Dakota have an opportunity to help keep CWD at bay by participating in a surveillance effort the Game and Fish Department is conducting this fall.

In Grand Forks, Game and Fish is setting up a collection site at the Grand Forks Gun Club, 6950 Gateway Drive, where hunters can drop off deer heads for testing. The University of North Dakota Chapter of The Wildlife Society will monitor the site, making sure deer heads are in the bins and serving as liaisons between the department and the public.

Game and Fish will pick up the heads on Mondays throughout the deer season, according to Susan Felege, an associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at UND and adviser of The Wildlife Society chapter. From there, department staff will take the heads to Bismarck, where they will remove lymph nodes and send the samples to a lab at Colorado State University for testing.

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Four UND students working in two pairs also will go to Bismarck to help with sampling in the department’s lab. Fawns or animals shot in the head cannot be tested.

Participating hunters will be notified when the rest results become available, which typically takes two to three weeks.

The testing effort in Grand Forks and other sites in eastern North Dakota is part of a rotational surveillance program Game and Fish conducts throughout the state every fall. While areas known to have CWD are tested every year, sites on the rotational schedule are sampled every three years or so.

This just happens to be Grand Forks’ year.

Besides helping Game and Fish monitor the disease, hunters who drop off deer heads at the Grand Forks site will help UND students gain valuable hands-on experience in their chosen fields as fish and wildlife managers.

To date, CWD in North Dakota is limited to deer hunting unit 3F2 in the south-central part of the state and units 3A1 and 4B in the northwest and western parts of the state. Minnesota’s cases are in the southeast part of the state and in a couple of small pockets near Brainerd and St. Cloud.

North Dakota has 17 confirmed cases, all in wild deer; in Minnesota, eight deer or elk farms and 52 wild deer have tested positive for the disease, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

As part of this year’s sampling effort, Game and Fish has an interactive map on its website with detailed information showing the location of each of the 95 collection sites across North Dakota. Besides the UND-led effort at the Grand Forks Gun Club, collection sites in eastern North Dakota will be set up in communities including Cando, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fordville, Grafton, Lakota, Larimore, Mayville, Park River, Reynolds, Walhalla and West Fargo.

The full list, along with detailed instructions for submitting heads for testing, is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov/wildlife/diseases/cwd/surveillance.

In Minnesota, testing is mandatory in the CWD management and control zones where the disease has been found. DNR staff will be onsite at sampling stations in the CWD-positive areas to collect lymph nodes from hunters’ deer.

Hunters outside the surveillance area can get their deer tested for a fee through the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. More information is available on the lab’s website or by calling (612) 625-8787.