A hunter’s field guide for chronic wasting disease

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As hunting season ramps up, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is the best source for the latest chronic wasting disease (CWD) procedures and instructions. These answers were found by visiting FWP.MT.GOV/CWD.

What is Chronic Wasting Disease?

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk and moose. There is no known cure, and it is fatal to infected animals. Animals may be infected for up to two years before showing any symptomatic signs of infection.

Do I have to turn in my harvest for testing?

In short, you do not have to turn in your animal for testing UNLESS the animal was killed in a CWD zone. All deer, elk and moose harvested within the Libby CWD Management Zone, including any harvested with a Libby Special CWD Hunt B license and any harvested with any other type of license, must be checked and sampled within 3 days of harvest.

How and where to drop animal for testing

This year FWP is paying for the testing of samples from hunter-harvested deer, elk and moose anywhere in the state regardless of whether they are in a management zone or sampling area. If these animals come from outside our sampling areas, hunters can either take the samples themselves, fill out the information sheet found online and mail them to FWP lab in Bozeman or bring the animal (or head) to CWD sampling station in Libby.

During general big game season (Oct. 26 to Dec. 1), the Libby Special CWD hunt sampling station will be open every day from 11 a.m. – 1.5 hours after sunset. Hunters are only required to stop at the sampling station if they harvested an animal.

The Canoe Gulch Check Station will be open weekends from 11 a.m. – 1.5 hours after sunset during the general season and all hunters—with or without game—passing the check station must stop.

Collecting the test sample

To submit a sample at an FWP regional office, bring the following items when you submit your head for testing:

1. Animal’s head: Leave 2 to 4 inches of the neck below the low jawbone and base of the skull to ensure lymph nodes are present and not inadvertently left with the carcass. Samples cannot be collected from frozen heads.

2. Location of Harvest: GPS coordinates (Lat/Long, Township/Range/Section) of where you harvested your animal.

3. Hunter Harvest Submission Form: This can be printed from the fwp.mt.gov/CWD website and will accompany any sample submission.

To submit a sample via mail to the FWP Lab, take the following steps:

1. Collect the lymph nodes: Please watch the “How to collect lymph nodes” video online at fwp.mt.gov/CWD. Only the lymph nodes are necessary for testing. Extraction can easily be performed with a field knife.

2. Put the lymph nodes in sealed bag: Ziplock bags or a similar brand work best. Double bag the sample and wrap it in a paper towel.

3. Fill out the Hunter Harvest Submission Form: This form can be printed online at fwp.mt.gov/CWD and should be sent in a separate plastic bag with the samples. The form must be fully filled out with contact info and harvest location. FWP will send you a unique CWD number that will allow you to look up your test results online at fwp.mt.gov/CWD within 3 weeks.

4. Shipment: Place the bagged samples, a cold ice pack, and the bagged submission form(s) in a small box or shipping envelope and send via your choice of postal carrier. FWP recommends using a carrier that will deliver your samples within 24-48 hours to prevent the samples from rotting. Please try to ship your samples on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday of each week, and avoid shipping on holidays, to prevent the samples from sitting over the weekend.

5. Send to:

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

ATTN: Wildlife Health Lab (CWD)

1400 S. 19th Avenue

Bozeman, MT 59718

How long does it take to get results?

If your animal is sampled by FWP staff at a check station or regional office during the general surveillance season or during a special hunt, results will be posted online (fwp.mt.gov/cwd) within three weeks. FWP recommends obtaining results before consuming meat from deer killed within a CWD Management Zone. If your harvested deer is found to be positive, you can dispose of the meat appropriately at a landfill and FWP will provide a new tag for the remaining hunting season.

What if my animal tests positive?

There is no known transmission of CWD to humans. However, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that hunters harvesting a deer, elk, or moose from an area where CWD is known to be present have their animal tested for CWD prior to consuming the meat, and to not consume the meat if the animal tests positive.

Some simple precautions should be taken when field dressing deer, particularly in CWD Management Zones: (1) wear rubber gloves and eye protection when field dressing your deer, (2) minimize the handling of brain and spinal tissues, (3) wash hands and instruments thoroughly after field dressing is completed, (4) avoid processing and consuming brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils and lymph nodes of harvested animals.

How to dispose carcasses

Hunters are strongly encouraged to dispose of hides, bones and trimmings at approved landfills, such as the Lincoln County Landfill. If the carcass is processed within the CWD Management Zone, any brain and spinal parts must be discarded in the Lincoln County Landfill. The Lincoln County Landfill has a designated space and liner for animals. As animals are discarded, the landfill buries the carcasses deep enough to prevent scavenger animals from reaching them.

Where does CWD come from?

The origin of CWD is unknown. It was discovered in 1967 in mule deer at a research facility in Colorado and has since spread across 26 states, three Canadian provinces, Norway, Finland and South Korea. Concerning Montana, CWD was detected in Philipsburg on an elk farm in the late 1990s. The elk farm was depopulated and ceased operation after CWD was detected. CWD was first found in wild deer in Montana in October 2017. To date, CWD has been detected in Carbon, Liberty, Hill, Blaine, Phillips, Valley, Daniels, Sheridan and Lincoln counties.

Preventing the spread

To reduce the spread of CWD, whole carcasses, whole heads or spinal columns cannot be taken out of the Libby CWD Management Zone unless the animal has tested negative for CWD. Hunters are strongly encouraged to dispose of hides, bones and trimmings at approved landfills equipped for CWD, such as the Lincoln County Landfill. If the carcass is processed within the CWD Management Zone, any brain and spinal parts must be discarded in the Lincoln County Landfill.

Who to contact with CWD-related questions?

For questions related to CWD, hunters should review the fwp.mt.gov/cwd website or contact:

Libby Area Biologist Tonya Chilton-Radandt, 406-293-4161, ext 209

Libby Area Game Warden Tamie Fitchett, 406-291-1954

FWP Regional Information & Education Program Manager Dillon Tabish, 406-751-4564.

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