Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a cruel fate suffered by deer, elk and other wildlife.

It is an always fatal, contagious, neurological disease that causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.

With general big game season over in Montana (excluding shoulder seasons) , the primary surveillance effort for chronic wasting disease is complete, although results are still coming in. From July 1 through Dec. 3, testing has detected 134 positive cases so far. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees have processed more than 7,000 samples.  Since 2017, FWP has sampled 17,960 deer, elk and moose combined statewide, with 316 positives. This season, CWD-positive animals were newly detected in hunting districts 309, 314, 326, 320, and 622.

An obvious concern to Montana hunters is whether or not they harvested an infected animal. Testing and handling education have increased a great deal, and the process has seen significant improvements in getting tests back in a much more timely manner.

This year, with the COVID pandemic, there were more logistical challenges than normal, but overall FWP officials say the sampling went well. Hunters were able to get their sample results quicker by utilizing the new testing capabilities of the Montana Department of Livestock’s diagnostic lab in Bozeman. Montana had some new areas with detections,  which does reinforce the assumption that the disease is widespread across the state.

This season, FWP focused on three CWD surveillance areas – northwest Montana, southwest Montana and eastern Montana.

NOTE TO HUNTERS:  In southwest Montana, FWP is looking to both get more hunter-submitted samples from whitetail deer and reduce whitetail deer numbers. The department is asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission at their December 10 meeting to extend whitetail deer harvest opportunities in several hunting districts: 320, 322, 324, 325, 326, 329, 330, 331 and 340.


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