IDAHO — Big Game Hunting season is approaching, a season many Idahoans look forward to. But, Idaho Fish and Game is also ramping up their efforts to keep chronic wasting disease out of our state and they need hunters' help.
“It is a pathogen that is a severe neurological degradation, so we start to see issues with brain lesions," Dr. Nicole Walrath, IDFG Wildlife Veterinarian said. "Your neuro system between your spinal column or your brain starts to look like swiss cheese, and these animals are more likely to die earlier."
This disease is devastating to deer and elk populations, something our neighboring states are already seeing with CWD-positive herds.
“We are very concerned. In other states across the US it has actually reduced their populations quite a bit," Dr. Walrath said. "Wyoming, which is a similar hunting model to ours, in whitetail deer they’ve had a 21 percent drop in their herds, and in elk, they have seen a 13 percent drop in their herds just from this pathogen."
IDFG has been doing surveillance for CWD for years now and they have not found a detection. But it's starting to show up in herds closer to Idaho.
“Wyoming has had it for quite a few years now, but more recently in the last few years Montana has also been detecting it very close to our borders at two locations," Dr. Walrath said. “Not saying that it isn’t here already, just saying that we haven’t detected it yet at this stage which is a positive but hopefully we continue not to be able to."
She also said humans are the biggest factor in the disease being spread when they transport animal carcasses across state lines and hunting areas.
“Hunters travel from all over the U.S. and go hunt these animals in certain locations, so that is an issue because they take those carcasses back to their home state. Where they are disposing of that carcass especially the brain and spinal column is where we are going to get transfer of that disease away from its place of origin," Dr. Walrath said.
That is why IDFG is asking for hunter's help in not spreading this disease. In Idaho, hunters are required to use all edible portions of the animal they harvest. All inedible portions should be double bagged, securely tied, and disposed of in a garbage can for collection.
Dumping the carcass anywhere else is illegal. It is also illegal to bring in the whole carcass of a deer, elk, or moose into the state of Idaho from a different state. The meat must be cut off and wrapped up with no brain matter or spinal tissue remaining before crossing state lines.
"We are also doing heavy surveillance on a regular basis, so at your deer check stations we are doing CWD surveillance," Dr. Walrath said. "If you are willing to let us test those it is advisable because it is advised not to eat the meat on a CWD positive animal.”
IDFG is also sending out sample kits to anyone who got Big Game tags this year and asks that you send them back for further testing.