The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission sent a letter to Wyoming last week asking wildlife managers to reconsider the use of winter feeding grounds in order to help prevent chronic wasting disease.
Dan Vermillion, the chairman of the commission, said "it’s not our position to tell them what to do. It’s not our position to tell them how to manage their wildlife. We’re just asking them as a neighbor to help us."
Vermillion said the letter was sent last week with unanimous consent from the five-person Montana wildlife commission.
Chronic wasting disease was discovered for the first time in wild Montana deer this past fall. The disease is 100 percent fatal and highly contagious and could have severe impacts on Montana’s populations of deer, elk and moose if left unmanaged.
"It is not coincidental, in the commission’s opinion, that the first cases of chronic wasting disease were found not too far from the Wyoming border. Wyoming has had the disease for a long time, and one of the things that Wyoming does in the way it manages wildlife is it has historically had feed grounds where they basically, in the winter, they have all the elk congregate on very specific pieces of winter range and then they feed them," Vermillion said.
Although Wyoming’s feed grounds have not yet had any official cases of chronic wasting disease, Vermillion said the artificial aggregation of elk close to the Montana border undercuts actions to control the spread of the disease.
"When that disease does get there it is going to spread very quickly between those animals because they’re all kind of nose-to-nose."
Vermillion said the main concern Montana wildlife officials have about Wyoming’s feeding grounds is how quickly infected elk and deer populations from those grounds could then cross state lines.
Artificially feeding wildlife is illegal in Montana. It has been linked to the spread of chronic wasting disease and brucellosis.
"Even if we do everything right, so long as you have this disease cauldron that is being intensified or enhanced through the feed grounds; that's a problem. All of our good work, and all of Montana’s sacrifice of its game herds to specifically, hopefully, eradicate this disease could be undercut."
Vermillion said the Montana commission has not heard any official response from Wyoming.
Montana’s first ever special deer hunt for chronic wasting disease begins Friday.