Ten or fifteen years ago, the rapid spread of Chronic Wasting Disease through our deer herds was highly alarming. It was found first in one small population of deer in the southeast corner of the state, but then it was found in more areas. The next year, it seemed to have spread farther yet and had infected more deer.
We know now that’s not necessarily the case. The disease probably didn’t spread that quickly; more likely, it had already been in most of those areas, but nobody had been looking for it until it started being reported.
But we’re still finding it in more new hunt areas almost every year. This year, the latest areas to be added to the list are area 12 northeast of Saratoga; area 112 southwest of Cody; and area 171 north of Lander. It’s also been confirmed at Devil’s Tower National Monument, but that’s inside area 1, which had already been known to have infected deer.
The Game and Fish Department is conducting statewide CWD tests, and they’ve been taking tissue samples from deer and elk at game check stations for years. Hunters can also submit samples from their deer and elk outside this testing program. There’s no evidence humans can contract CWD from eating infected meat, but health officials still caution hunters to avoid eating animals that have been tested positive for the disease.
The important thing to know about this disease is that it’s not as scary as we once thought it might be. A decade or so ago, some people thought CWD would eventually wipe out all the deer in the West. That isn’t the case. Biologists now believe it will reduce deer numbers, but only slightly.
It’s bad news that the disease is being found in more areas each year. But there will still be plenty of deer to hunt, long into the future.