Helping to manage chronic wasting disease in Montana

Thursday, February 7, 2019
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For Montana’s wildlife biologists, managing chronic wasting disease can be a little like playing the classic board game “Battleship.”

Biologists know their target is out there, but predicting just where and when the next occurrence will turn up is, well, hit or miss.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, hasn’t been officially identified in Park County, but officials with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks believe the fatal neurodegenerative disease may already be present in our region’s elk and deer populations.

“What we’re pretty sure is we don’t have it at a high prevalence, but we can’t say with a lot of certainty we don’t have it here,” local FWP wildlife biologist Karen Loveless said Monday, Jan. 28 during a presentation to the Park County Rod and Gun Club. Loveless and CWD lead technician John Thornburg assured the group that the disease — in areas where it has been identified — exists at low prevalence levels.

Still, as hunters and conservationists, we should all work to do our part to assist in efforts to continue to keep CWD under control in Montana.

Thankfully, FWP was able to identify the existence of CWD at a very early stage, before the disease was able to have any significant impact on wildlife in the Treasure State.

The agency needs the support of all outdoor recreationists to manage CWD and other invaders that, if left unchecked, could be devastating for our state and the wild animals that call it home. As anglers, we all have a responsibility to clean, drain and dry our boats, waders, boots and other fishing gear to help combat aquatic invasive species in our rivers.

Likewise, Montana hunters can assist FWP in managing CWD by having their game tested for free in management zones. Hunters outside of those zones have the option of testing their animals for $18 plus shipping.

Hunters — among the most efficient management tools available to FWP — may also be asked to participate in special hunts if CWD is detected in a certain area. These special hunts, in conjunction with testing, help wildlife biologists define boundaries of a CWD infection.

By doing our part as hunters on the ground, we can help FWP keep a handle of CWD in Montana and hopefully prevent the disease from having the crippling impacts it has in other parts of the West, particularly in Colorado.

“This has been on the landscape for decades and hasn’t taken over,” Loveless told the audience. “It’s creeping, but not exploding, and that allows us to manage it.”

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