County deer tests positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, raises concerns for tribal hunters

Thursday, December 5, 2019

A deer harvested within Big Horn County has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, officially marking the end of Big Horn County’s “clean streak” and designating it a “red zone” for CWD contamination, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Although, hunting season for the state has already come and gone, there is a very pressing concern for many of Montana’s tribal members, who retain their right to subsistence hunting year-round on the reservation.

The diagnosis in the county heightens the chances of hunters and families on the reservation consuming meat from a potentially harmful deer infected with CWD.

While there is no scientific evidence that would confirm the successful transmission of CWD prions through consumption to humans, pets, and livestock, the Center for Disease Control does highly encourage that any meat harvested from a deer, elk, or moose within or nearby a “red zone” where CWD is present be tested to reduce the chance of remediation by consumption.

The standard test is to look at an animal’s retropharyngeal lymph nodes or brainstem for evidence of CWD, according to the Montana FWP website. These samples can only be collected from dead animals and are submitted to a certified CWD-testing diagnostic laboratory.

With the end of the state hunting season, game stations where local hunters would normally take a sample have closed for the year.

This presents an issue for tribal hunters living on the reservation, who would then have to take a sample of the harvested animal to Billings for testing.

With winter weather imminent, concerns rise as the process of testing carcasses for tribal hunters becomes even more complex.

Tribal hunters are encouraged to exercise caution and awareness before consuming venison harvested within Big Horn County.

The CDC recommends hunters who commercially process their harvest ask that their meat be processed separately, to avoid potential CWD contamination.

While proper field dressing of the carcass primarily eliminates organs and tissue most affected by CWD, it does not eliminate a possible transmission route to humans.

CWD prions, closely related to cellular proteins within the body, are always fatal to any member of the Cervid or deer family and can remain in the ground soil for up to seven years.

The World Health Organization recommends hunters, wear rubber gloves and eye protection when field dressing your deer; minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues; wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed; and avoid consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals.