A mule deer buck harvested south of Billings in October has tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease, officials confirmed Wednesday. CWD is deadly and contagious to deer, elk and moose.
Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks says a sample collected from the hunter-killed deer 10 miles southeast of Bridger tested positive during an initial round of testing. A second, more thorough test is now being done on the sample at Colorado State University to confirm the presence of the infection.
If that sample comes back positive, it will be the first documented case of Chronic Wasting Disease found in wildlife in Montana.
John Vore is the Game Management Bureau Chief for FWP.
He says he was notified of the possible case Tuesday as he was presenting his agency's plans to deal with CWD to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission in Helena.
"And as I was coming back from the podium I was handed a note that said we've got a suspect hit here. Go figure how the timing goes like that."
Vore says FWP put its CWD plan into action right away.
"We had the ball rolling withing two hours of knowing about this. The next step is, we need to determine what the prevalence of the disease is in that population of deer down there. Once we've learned about what the prevalence is, that will guide future management for us."
The disease is similar to mad cow disease. It infects the central nervous system of cervids like deer, elk and moose, causing organ damage and death. It dramatically shortens the average lifespan of infected populations and can potentially wipe out entire herds.
Jennifer Ramsey is a wildlife veterinarian who has been involved with surveillance efforts for CWD for nearly a decade.
"First kind of major step is to go up there and do a special CWD hunt. And the goal of that hunt is not to go in and reduce that herd. Of course that will be a side effect. But the actual goal of that hunt is to collect samples with the goal of trying to get some idea of the prevalence of the disease in that area."
FWP has been bracing itself for the discovery of CWD in Montana. This fall, they ramped up efforts to test for the disease, allocating a million dollars to surveillance efforts over the next five years. Ramsey says this year’s concentrated surveillance efforts are a contrast from recent years when the agency lacked the funding to test widely for the disease.