CWD Testing

Justin Binfet, regional wildlife coordinator for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Casper office, pulls a tooth from an elk taken by a hunter in 2017 to determine its age after removing a lymph node to test for chronic wasting disease.

BUFFALO — A working group formed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is exploring options and taking public opinion on the management of chronic wasting disease throughout Wyoming.

In April, the director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Brian Nesvik, appointed 32 people to the CWD working group with the directive to explore and gather information on the disease and, along with public comment, develop management options for a revised CWD management plan. The group is also charged with disseminating that information back to the public, according to Janet Milek, the public information specialist for Game and Fish for the Casper region working with the CWD working group.

The first meetings took place in late May and early June in Laramie, Casper, Sheridan, Worland and Pinedale.

“What we did at those meetings is give the public general chronic wasting disease information,” Milek said. “Then we broke into smaller groups and discussed the public’s concerns, issues and recommendations.”

The working group then came together as a whole in July for the first time and was educated by both local and national specialists at the forefront of CWD research.

The information has been gathered from the public, but the working group is still holding meetings and will continue taking additional recommendations from the public on their concerns and how they would like Game and Fish to manage deer and elk in regards to CWD in Wyoming.

“The public meetings were incredibly valuable to us,” Milek said. “We learned a ton of information on what the public wants in regards to CWD and the management of deer and elk, but there is no definite plan of action yet. We’re still in the middle of this process, being led by Dr. Jessica Western of the Ruckelshaus Institute of the Haubs School of Environment and Natural Resources with the University of Wyoming, who directs this collaborative process. At this time, the working group is still developing recommendations.”

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“We’re also backing up a little bit, as requested by the group, and we’re going to give more information on how we manage deer and elk in Wyoming so we better understand the Game and Fish management process as we move forward,” Milek said.

Chronic wasting disease is classified as a prion disease. Prion diseases or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are a family of rare progressive neurodegenerative disorders that affect both humans and animals. They are distinguished by long incubation periods, characteristic spongiform changes associated with neuronal loss, and a failure to induce inflammatory response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CWD has not been found to be transmittable to other species such as sheep and cattle, according to Hank Edwards, laboratory supervisor with the Wildlife Laboratory for Game and Fish.

“It seems to be very restricted to cervid family; that’s deer, elk, moose and reindeer,” Edwards said. “We’ve not seen this disease go to livestock, and there’s been a fair amount of research.

The Game and Fish, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and the University of Wyoming did a 10-year study with cattle with no indication that this naturally transmitted to cattle. It doesn’t seem to go to bighorn sheep or pronghorn or anything else. So, the answer is no, we have not seen this disease naturally transmit to livestock.”

There is currently no evidence to support CWD being transmitted to humans.

Game and Fish tests harvested deer by cutting lymph nodes from the animal. Hunters can transport their entire harvest or the head and most of the neck to any Game and Fish office. The department asks hunters to turn in a sample of their harvested deer to the closest Game and Fish office for testing.

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