Montana is changing how it handles the animals harvested in CWD management zones this hunting season, and hunters will now be able to move deer, elk and moose carcasses across management zone borders.
Meant to simplify the rules aimed at preventing CWD’s spread, the change shifts the responsibility of properly disposing of animal remains onto hunters.
Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, affects the cervid family: deer, elk and moose. The misfolded proteins responsible for the fatal disease are spread mainly through animal-to-animal contact. Animals remain highly infectious after death, and infected carcasses can easily spread the disease to other cervids through direct contact or through the landscape by infecting the grasses and vegetation other cervids will eat.
That is why FWP has historically restricted hunters from transporting carcasses out of CWD management zones in northwest, southwest and eastern Montana. The rule was designed to prevent hunters from dumping an infected carcass in the woods and potentially spreading CWD to uninfected herds.
FWP’s Dillon Tabish explained those transport restrictions were always in flux depending on where the disease was detected.
“It got pretty difficult and complicated for hunters to kind of keep up with that as the season progressed,” he said.
Hunters will now be able to transport carcasses anywhere in the state, Tabish said, but are required to dispose of them at local landfills. He added FWP has full confidence that hunters will follow the new rule.
Nick Gevock with the Montana Wildlife Federation said it is crucial that hunters do not dump carcasses improperly, pointing to the fact that CWD’s statewide prevalence is under the 5% threshold set by FWP.
“Based on testing last year, the prevalence with a sample size of 7,000 animals came to right about 2%,” Gevock said. “We can live with CWD at those levels.”
FWP is also changing surveillance efforts. Animals harvested within CWD management zones are not required to be sampled, but officials are encouraging hunters to submit samples themselves or bring their animals to sampling stations throughout the state.
CWD has not been found in humans, but federal health officials do not recommend eating meat from an infected animal.