Montana wildlife managers say 91 cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) have been found statewide so far this year. The Libby area accounts for nearly half of those detections and that number is expected to grow with results still rolling in from this year’s big game season.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will soon have a good grasp on where CWD is found throughout the state and the prevalence of the fatal wildlife disease That data will impact the state’s next steps in confronting the disease. If left unchecked, CWD can decimate deer and elk herds. It can also infect moose.
According to FWP, most of this year’s detections came from white-tailed deer and mule deer, but detections in one elk and moose were both firsts in Montana.
Nearly half of the animals found with the disease this year were killed near Libby. FWP spokesperson Greg Lemon says CWD’s detection in the area this spring was surprising, but the number of detections coming from Libby’s urban deer population isn’t.
"Once we realized that it was in the urban deer population, I think at that at that point we know it was going to be, sort of, really uncharted territory for us."
CWD spreads quickly through dense deer herds like the one in Libby. Lemon says there have been 6,600 animal samples statewide sent out for testing this year and most of the results are expected back next week.
"With the results from this year, we’ll get together internally over the winter and come up with a game plan both for sampling next year and for management."
It’s unclear how much Montana will spend on CWD surveillance efforts this year. The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies estimates that U.S. states collectively will spend $84 million over the next five years. There is a bill in Congress that would help pay for less than half of those costs. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing this week on a seperate bill that would set up a national CWD task force.