The contagious neurological illness Chronic Wasting Disease has killed seven deer in 2019 alone, and it’s starting to gain the attention of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks managers.
According to FWP veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey, a misfolded protein found in lymph nodes in the brains of deer, elk, and moose is what is causing the fatal Chronic Wasting Disease.
Ramsey first started studying high-risk CWD areas after the disease was first detected near Billings a few years ago. One of the main aspects of the disease she’s trying to study is how it spreads.
“Areas with high mule/deer density – those are the areas that we thought it’s most likely to show up first,” Ramsey said. “So, those are the areas we started focusing on. Libby didn’t show up in that model as a high-risk area because we didn’t know that we had it near the border in this part of the state. So, we don’t know how it showed up here.”
Ramsey says that if someone suspects an animal might have CWD, then it’s vital to contact FWP as soon as possible.
According to Ramsey, the signs of an animal with CWD include, “Animals that are showing abnormal behavior. Walking in cirlces… Standing with their legs spread apart for balance, drooling, droopy ears.”
FWP covers all the expenses that relate to curing an animal with CWD. If any deceased animals test positive for CWD, the carcass must be disposed of and the meat not consumed.
State Rep. Jennifer Pomnichowski of Bozeman says that it’s vital for people to follow the FWP’s instructions if you come in contact with an animal with CWD.
"Hunting is a staple in Montana -- it's part of our heritage,” Pomnichowski said. “So, Chronic Wasting Disease in any deer population is of pretty great concern. So, we want to make sure that hunters around the state test the animals, don't eat contaminated meat."
State Rep. Steve Gunderson of Libby says that hearing that CWD was in his district was disheartening, but he trusts that Libby is best equipped to handle cases like this.
"It's going to be an easy area to do the testing in because it's more of an urban problem because of the prevalence of deer in an urban setting,” Gunderson said
Visit the FWP website for specifics on sample harvesting and mailing.