Good news has been hard to come by in the battle against chronic wasting disease, but deer culled by federal sharpshooters two weeks ago south of Williston, N.D., all have tested negative for the brain disease that’s fatal to deer, elk and moose, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said this week.
“That was possibly the best news we could have gotten,” Casey Anderson, assistant wildlife chief for Game and Fish, said Tuesday night in Minto during the spring advisory board meeting for District 4 of northeast North Dakota.
Game and Fish is mandated to hold the meetings twice a year in each of the state’s eight advisory board meetings. About 50 people attended Tuesday night’s meeting.
According to Jeb Williams, wildlife chief for Game and Fish in Bismarck, the department contracted with USDA Wildlife Services to kill 52 deer in hunting Unit 3B1 south of Williston two weeks ago after a deer found dead in February tested positive for CWD.
“We decided we needed to go in there and get some more information,” Williams said in a phone interview.
CWD is caused by a rogue protein called a prion that infected animals shed through urine, saliva and feces. Once on the landscape, the prions can’t be destroyed.
During Tuesday night’s advisory board meeting, Anderson said the recent positive finding south of Williston sent up a “red flag,” but this week’s results from additional testing suggest the prevalence of the disease is low.
“CWD is a risk management disease, essentially,” Anderson said. “You try to reduce the risk of the disease spreading as much as you can. Can we stop it period? No.”
With CWD now confirmed in 3B1 and neighboring Unit 3A1, where a mule deer buck tested positive for the disease last fall, Game and Fish now will sample the infected areas every year, Anderson said. Other parts of the state where the disease hasn’t been found will continue to be tested every three years.
In addition, Game and Fish will recommend baiting and carcass restrictions in the new infected areas, Anderson said, meaning hunters who shoot deer, elk or moose from units where CWD has been found will have to leave the spinal cord, brain tissue, brain stem and other nervous tissue behind.
In addition, brain matter must be completely removed from skulls that will be mounted before the heads legally can leave the units.
Such restrictions already are in place for Unit 3F2 in the far south-central part of the state, where CWD first was detected in North Dakota in 2009 and where 13 deer have tested positive, including two last fall. With the two recent positives in northwest North Dakota, 15 cases of the disease now have been documented in the state.
Any deer that gets CWD dies from it, Anderson said, so the department’s goal is to try to keep it from spreading into new parts of the state.
“Hopefully science can catch up, and we might come across a silver bullet where we’ve got a better way to deal with it,” he said. “It’s not something we want, and it’s something we want to try to control until we can maybe find a better way to deal with it because there really aren’t a whole lot of good ways to hold it off.”