Continued Spread of CWD Will Impact Game Management and Trophy and Meat Transport

May 2018 Issue – By Mike Bodenchuk, Editor-at-Large

Frankly, we get tired of writing about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), and you’re probably tired of reading about it. But the disease continues to spread across North America and threatens to impact hunters who travel, both here and abroad.

CWD surveillance during the 2017-18 deer hunting season has revealed the prion-caused disease in a number of new areas in states already affected, as well as being detected for the first time in Mississippi and Montana. Management actions have failed to check the progression of the disease – both in its prevalence and geographic incursion.

In some areas, where CWD has been present for a long time, population level impacts have been documented. Simply put, CWD is decreasing deer abundance- and hunting opportunities -when the prevalence gets high. Annual mortality rates from the disease are replacing hunter harvest.

On the international front, CWD has been detected in wild and captive cervids for many years in Canada. In 2000, CWD was detected in elk that originated from an elk farm in Canada. CWD was also detected in wild reindeer in Norway, and this past year CWD was detected in a moose in Finland. All of the European cases appear to be caused by a different prion than the prions that cause the North American cases.

For hunters, there remain several impacts. First, because CWD is a slow developing disease, management efforts have started to shift to aggressive harvest of younger age animals. Trophy management may be disappearing in areas where CWD is detected. Second, any disease, but especially CWD, spreads faster in high density populations than in low density populations, so don’t be surprised when state wildlife agencies propose more liberal seasons and bag limits designed to reduce the herd well below carrying capacity. Third, because artificial feed can concentrate deer and increase contact between infected deer and non-infected deer, eliminating the use of bait for deer hunting is a common management strategy.

Hunters who travel need to know, and practice, safe transportation practices, under penalty of law. Most states have enacted regulations to prevent the movement of brain and spinal tissues from cervids in CWD endemic areas to reduce the chance of moving CWD infected tissue. Some states- especially those that do not already have the disease -appear poised to expand those regulations to prevent the movement of certain tissues from anywhere out-of-state. Read the regulations regarding handling of meat and tissues in both the state you’re hunting in and your home state (and any that you will be traveling through) to make sure you comply. Pay special attention to regulations regarding proof of sex, as some states require proof of sex naturally attached to the carcass, which might be very difficult if you cannot move an intact skull. Hunters have already been apprehended and prosecuted in Oregon and Michigan for moving deer carcasses from adjacent states without complying with the regulations.

Internationally, expect trophy and meat imports from Canada to have to comply with the same regulations- no brain or spinal tissue, cut and wrapped meat, clean skull plates with antlers and only fleshed hides. Mexico has yet to document CWD, so regulations don’t necessarily apply there, but the requirement to freeze, and then thaw, capes to prevent the movement of live ticks will likely cause you to process any deer meat. Regulations about movement of meat and trophies within the EU will cause you to leave any meat there, but you can bring in cleaned trophies. Finished taxidermy is always exempt from CWD regulations (hint- have the European mount done there).

CWD will continue to expand, and regulations will continue to be implemented and increased. As hunters who travel, it’s up to us to understand the issues and comply with regulations to keep a bad situation from getting worse.