For the first time in a decade, Washington wildlife officials take a sample of chronic wasting disease on the day the deer hunting season opens
For the first time in a decade, Washington wildlife officials searched for a fatal neurological disease when the modern deer hunting season opened on Saturday.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife employees and volunteers spoke to hunters at checkpoints and took lymph node samples from all deer killed that day. These samples will then be sent to a laboratory at Washington State University and tested for chronic wasting disease.
WDFW vet Kristin Mansfield was at a checkpoint near Deer Park. It was a slow day with few hunters stopping and only one MDC sample collected at this checkpoint, she said.
Yet this is the first step in an effort to, if not stop, at least slow the spread of chronic wasting disease. Known as CWD, the fatal neurological disease kills deer and elk and is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. There is no known cure, and it is not known to infect humans, although authorities warn against consuming meat from animals infected with CWD. Infected animals will, among other things, trip, drool, not be afraid of people and lose weight.
The disease is spread via âabnormally formed proteinsâ called prions. CWD has a long incubation period, which means apparently healthy animals can be infected and prions are spread in the soil via deer or elk droppings, urine and saliva. CWD in soil can infect healthy animals years later.
âThat’s why it’s so important. If it enters our wild populations, it is almost impossible to get rid of once it is already in the landscape, âsaid Melia DeVivo, an ungulate research scientist at WDFW. “Not to say we couldn’t try to manage it.”
MDC has not been documented in Washington or Idaho.
However, in 2019, this was confirmed in white-tailed deer near Libby, MT, a few miles from the Idaho border. According to research by DeVivo and others, CWD can decimate populations of wild ungulates. As a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming, DeVivo discovered that CWD can kill up to 19% of the population each year.
Understandably, confirmation of the disease in Libby raised regional concerns, and in 2021 the Washington legislature allocated WDFW $ 465,000 for CWD surveillance and monitoring.
This year, WDFW is focusing on a handful of gaming management units in northeast Washington, although Mansfield said the agency hopes to expand surveillance to all of eastern Washington. The goal in 2021 is to take samples from 1,200 animals. Already, WDFW staff have 140 samples of animals believed to have died from the ongoing outbreak of bluetongue and epizootic hemorrhagic disease in Washington. EHD and bluetongue are not linked to CWD.
Collecting that many samples gives WDFW a 95% chance of detecting CWD if 1% of the wild population is infected, Mansfield said.
âWe got a good chunk of funding from the legislature to kick-start our program, but not enough to carry out our whole plan,â Mansfield said. âWe entered the Libby, Mont. (region) where they have a very high prevalence. Most likely, if it is Washington, it will come from that very close area. “
CWD was first documented in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1967. Since then, it has spread to at least 25 states and two Canadian providences. Earlier this month, it was documented in the Teton Wilderness and Grays River watershed, a world-class hunting area in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone National Park.
Since the CWD’s confirmation in Libby in 2019, officials from the Idaho Department of Fisheries and Game in the Panhandle region have sampled the CWD annually, said Micah Ellstrom, the regional biologist for Coeur d’Alene. .
âWe are sampling again this year,â he said. “Given how close the positive detections are to the Idaho enclave, we collect samples every year.”
On average, the Gem State spends around $ 100,000 per year on its CWD detection efforts. In 2018, Idaho banned the importation of deer, elk or moose carcasses from areas affected by CWD.
The last time Washington implemented an official surveillance program was in 2011. However, the state banned deer farming in 1995, a move Mansfield attributes to the MDC’s exclusion from it. ‘State of Evergreen. And, like Idaho, Washington has strict rules governing the importation of carcasses from states with documented cases of CWD.
Still, having a strong monitoring system in place is an invaluable tool for wildlife managers, DeVivo said.
“If we don’t research, we just don’t know if we have the disease until it is potentially too late to do something meaningful to reduce the prevalence and help our populations,” she said. declared. âThe important thing is to catch the disease early and do what we can on the ground to contain it in the area where it is already present. “