Thirteen percent of the white-tailed deer in the town of Libby could be infected with chronic wasting disease (CWD), the highest prevalence rate in the state. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said this fall’s sampling efforts determined prevalence is almost three times the agency’s threshold for more aggressive management actions.
FWP is already trapping deer within city limits to reduce population numbers, which may be fueling the spread of CWD. Now the agency hopes to get permission from the state wildlife commission to sell an unlimited number of white-tailed deer tags. The move could increase harvest outside of Libby.
FWP’s Neil Anderson said the disease is much less common just outside of town, and that it will be up to the city to manage deer numbers within city limits.
“We’ll try to work with them to the best of our abilities on how to conduct the operations of that plan,” he said. “So I think there’s a lot of those details that have to be figured out yet.”
Libby City Manager Jim Hammons said he isn’t surprised by the high prevalence rate in town. He explained there are lots of food sources, including fruit trees, and few predators to keep the herd in check. That overpopulation is increasing the disease's prevalence.
“I know that there was people that had felt that there was something going on around here with the deer population,” Hammons said. “They called them ‘zombie deer’ over the years.”
Hammons said the city council is working on a management plan, but it could be some time before it’s hammered out. It’s unclear whether the city will adopt FWP’s approach of trapping and euthanizing deer in town, or if it will take a more aggressive approach.
Matt Dunfee with the national CWD Alliance said urban settings can mean few options for reducing deer numbers.
“When you add in small plot sizes of backyards, deer that are very used to humans, deer that can escape easy, the issues of trying to get permission to take deer or manipulate the habitat: Yes, it makes all of our management techniques much more difficult," he said.
City officials in Libby will meet later this week to review what other cities around the country have done.