CWD threatens state’s deer herd

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Sportsmen listen during a North Dakota Game and Fish Department Advisory Board meeting held Monday evening in Stanley. The growing threat of chronic wasting disease to the state’s deer herd was the main topic of discussion.

STANLEY – A deadly disease is poised to have a major impact on North Dakota’s deer, elk and moose populations.

“It’s more a matter of when, not if,” said Scott Peterson, NDG&F deputy director, to sportsmen gathered for a Game and Fish Advisory Board meeting here Monday evening.

CWD is transmissible and fatal for all species of cervids. In North Dakota that means white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose. The progressive and hideous disease attacks the nervous system of the state’s most prized big game animals, eventually causing brain damage to the extent the animals stop foraging and die of emaciation.

“It effects big bucks the most,” said Casey Anderson, NDG&F Wildlife Division assistant chief. “It’s almost like a slow growing cancer in the population. We’re hoping to hold it back until there’s a reasonable solution.”

Doing so seems like a long shot. CWD has already been discovered in Sioux and Grant Counties along the South Dakota border. South Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan have it too. In the latter case CWD has been identified within six miles of the North Dakota border.

The use of bait piles to attract deer has been closely linked to the spread of CWD, so much so that Game and Fish has outlawed the use of bait in deer Unit 3F2. Deer baiting is allowed elsewhere in the state. However, Anderson told Monday’s gathering of sportsmen, areas along the state’s northern border with Saskatchewan are expected to be added to the “no baiting” list very soon.

“We’re trying to protect the heritage of deer hunting in North Dakota,” said Peterson.

There is no current treatment or vaccine for CWD. The disease is most likely transmitted by oral ingestion of infectious prions. Prions are abnormal forms of cellular protein that accumulate throughout the body of a deer, elk or moose. CWD has been found in saliva, urine and feces. Prions survive on the ground, remaining infectious indefinitely, where they can be ingested by browsing deer.

Deer hunters at the meeting made several comments and inquiries to Game and Fish personnel. One man asked about the number of deer licenses and the goals of the department.

“The current goal is to reach 75,000 licenses,” responded Anderson.

Game and Fish establish deer population objectives, unit by unit, every five years. This past season just over 41,000 deer licenses were available to hunters other than landowners.

Another question asked to Game and Fish concerned the number of bowhunters in the field in quest of mule deer, primarily in the western part of the state where the animals and the Badlands terrain can make for an enjoyable and memorable experience.

“The quality of the deer has gone down substantially,” said one sportsman.

Peterson replied, “That’s not the first time I’ve heard that comment.”

He followed up that response by stating that Game and Fish has “always kind of stayed away from quality deer management.” However, he noted, that doesn’t mean the department won’t be closely monitoring the situation in coming seasons.

Game and Fish Advisory Board meetings are held twice yearly in each of the eight districts throughout the state. The final two meetings were held in Crosby and Steele Tuesday night. Information gained from the meetings is applied to future policy decision making by Game and Fish.

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