A confirmed case of chronic wasting disease in a mule deer harvested west of Bondurant, Wyo., on land close to wintering elk feedgrounds has officials worried about the possible spread of the disease to elk.
The mule deer buck was recently hunter-harvested 12 miles west of Bondurant on Willow Creek in hunt area 152 in the Wyoming Range. Wyoming Game and Fish Department tested the animal and it came up positive for chronic wasting disease — an always fatal neurological disease of deer, elk and moose. Prevalence of the disease has been known to crush deer and elk populations.
The disease has been knocking at the door of eastern Idaho with cases detected north of Afton, Wyo., in 2016, one south of Pinedale, Wyo., in 2017 and one north of Jackson, Wyo., in 2018.
Chronic wasting disease has yet to be detected in Wyoming elk or at any of its 22 elk feedgrounds or the National Elk Refuge just north of Jackson. Supplemental feed to elk during the winter has been going on in the state for more than 100 years.
“Feedgrounds concentrate large numbers of elk in small areas for several months, increasing the potential for the spread of diseases among elk, including (chronic wasting disease),” Wyoming Game and Fish said in a news release. “Currently in Wyoming the prevalence rate of (the disease) in elk is typically less than in deer.”
So far, the disease hasn’t been detected in Idaho, though border states — Utah, Montana and Wyoming — all have reported the disease.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is actively testing hunter-harvested deer, elk and moose and road-killed animals in an effort to detect the disease in case it crosses the border.
“It’s a pretty scientifically based monitoring effort to be able to detect it in areas where it is mostly likely to cross the border,” said Morgan Pfander, regional wildlife population biologist with Fish and Game. “I think we’re just doing everything we can to keep an eye on it. We’re doing everything we can to keep it out of our state. Hunters being really responsible about where they transport game is a big part of that.”
Officials are calling the latest detection of chronic wasting disease near elk feedgrounds worrisome.
“When (the disease) is found on elk feedgrounds, we will all be faced with some difficult discussions regarding elk management in western Wyoming,” said Brad Hovinga, Jackson regional wildlife supervisor. “Game and Fish has been working to lay the groundwork to minimize impacts and be prepared, but we realize this is a serious wildlife dilemma where solutions will require broad public support and a collaborative approach that includes help from partner agencies, elected officials, sportspersons, the general public and local communities.”