Two mule deer harvested during the opening weekend of a special chronic wasting disease hunt have tested positive for exposure to the disease.
Laboratory results from the first four days of the season — Dec. 15-18 — showed that two mule deer had been exposed to CWD. An adult buck harvested northwest of Warren and a female mule deer fawn harvested northeast of Belfry returned positive lab results. Samples from dates later than Dec. 18 still are being processed by the laboratory at Colorado State University.
During the first four days of the special CWD season, hunters harvested 87 mule deer and 40 white-tailed deer.
"This is just the first step in addressing this serious wildlife disease," said Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. "Once we get the full results, it's important that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has a very healthy discussion with the public about the options for moving forward with chronic wasting disease management, and takes public input on what the best path forward is."
During the 2017 general deer hunting season, FWP sampled about 1,300 deer harvested in south central Montana. The laboratory found that six of those deer — five mule deer and one white-tailed deer, all in Carbon County — tested positive for exposure to CWD. That prompted the special hunt.
The mule deer portion of the special hunt in Carbon County will close half an hour past sunset at 5:16 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 7, after the predetermined harvest quota is met.
The hunt was designed to gather data from 200 mule deer and 200 white-tailed deer to give wildlife managers a statistically valid sample of herds in the area. As of Thursday evening, more than 190 mule deer had been harvested. Wildlife biologists in Billings believe that the quota of 200 mule deer will be met by the end of the weekend, so that portion of the hunt will close.
To date, hunters have harvested 85 white-tailed deer, so that portion of the season will remain open until either 200 animals have been harvested or Feb. 15, whichever comes first.
The special hunt is designed to gather information about the distribution and prevalence of CWD in deer in the area of Carbon County where earlier evidence of the disease was discovered. Hunters are required to submit their harvested deer to FWP for sampling within three days either at a check station at Joliet or at FWP’s Region 5 headquarters in Billings Heights.
The Joliet check station will open from 10 a.m. to half an hour after sunset every day except Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 15, or until the quotas for both species are met and the season closes. The Region 5 headquarters is open during normal business hours.
CWD is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk and moose. It has been present for some years in states and Canadian provinces north, east and south of Montana, but was first found in wild deer in the state this fall during a focused CWD surveillance throughout south central Montana.
CWD has not been shown to spread to people, pets, livestock or wildlife outside of the deer family. However, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend not consuming meat from an animal known to be infected with CWD. The CDC also recommends that hunters have deer tested if they were harvested in areas where CWD is known to be present.
More information about CWD and the special hunt is available online to fwp.mt.gov/cwd.