KALISPELL — KALISPELL - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is reminding hunters about free testing available for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
CWD is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that infects members of the deer family, such as mule and white-tailed deer, elk, and moose.
Once an animal is infected it can spread quickly, potentially wiping out entire herds. CWD had not been transmitted to humans but it’s unknown if it eventually can or will be.
So far this hunting season, 563 animals have been tested for CWD with 12 samples testing positive, according to FWP.
“When you get to some real good white tissue and start looking for some Hemal Nodes, little black balls, you’re getting close to those lymph nodes,” explained FWP Chronic Wasting Disease Regional Coordinator Lindsey Walden.
In order to test for CWD, biologists need to collect lymph nodes samples from harvested deer, elk or moose.
“It’s a much denser tissue than anything else in there, I always say it feels like a gummy bear in there, it’s really dense tissue,” Walden said.
She noted that it’s a quick, simple process to submit a sample and usually only takes about five minutes: “It takes us longer to figure out their harvest location than it does for us to sample.”
Kalispell hunter Russell Swindall — who harvested a cow elk in the Dillon-area — brought his kill to the FWP office in Kalispell to have it sampled.
“That area down there seemed to have a cluster of it, of chronic wasting disease tests, so that kind of more motivated me to have this one tested,” Swindall told MTN News.
Russell thinks it important to submit samples, helping biologists collect data. “I’m not as concerned of the eating of it as I would have been, just trying to help out with the research.”
FWP spokesman Dillon Tabish says hunters play a critical role in tracking the disease.
“Hunting is really the primary tool when it comes to monitoring and managing CWD, and so hunters play a critical role in this effort as we really try to limit the spread and limit the prevalence.”
Tabish noted it’s impossible to track new CWD locations across the state if hunters don’t submit samples.
“For example, Libby, we never would have thought we could have possibly of had CWD in the Libby area because it wasn’t connected to any of those areas in the state that had CWD, and then unfortunately we found it in the Libby area, but we don’t know unless we sample,” Tabish said.
Tabish added that animals can appear perfectly healthy and still be infected which is why testing is so important, "by hunters participating in this effort, they’re helping us, they’re helping themselves, they’re helping our hunting traditions.”
Additional information about free CWD testing site locations can be found here.