Last week, Montana reported its first case of a free-ranging deer testing positive for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The deer was harvested by a Montana hunter and its carcass was brought to Oregon by the hunter’s relative, who lives in Madras.
The parties involved failed to follow regulations that prohibit certain parts of deer, elk and moose that contain central nervous system tissue (where the prion that causes CWD is most concentrated) from being brought into Oregon. People hunting in states with CWD who harvest a deer, elk or moose may only bring back parts without spinal cord or brain tissue (e.g. antlers on a clean skullcap). See page 29 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations under “Parts Ban” for more information.
ODFW and OSP contacted the relative late last week after learning from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks that the deer had tested positive for CWD. They discovered that prohibited parts containing neurological tissue had been brought into Oregon and had been disposed of in the local area following butchering. ODFW and OSP immediately retrieved these deer parts for safe disposal.
Some parts of the deer also went to a landfill. ODFW was unable to locate and retrieve these parts, as too much time had passed since their disposal. However, the parts are deeply buried and will not come into contact with deer or elk, so are considered a low risk to free-ranging wildlife.
Following investigation, OSP Fish & Wildlife Division Troopers criminally cited the relative for Unlawful Import of Cervid Parts from a CWD State. Troopers also recovered packaged deer meat as well as additional parts of the infected deer which will be safely disposed of by ODFW Staff.
“Enforcing the regulations established to protect Oregon’s fish, wildlife and other natural resources is the Division’s top priority. The cooperation with the individual who imported the unlawful parts, as well as the close coordination with ODFW, was paramount and really aided us in completing a thorough investigation” said Tim Schwartz, OSP Fish & Wildlife Division Lieutenant. “Without this cooperation and coordination, this could’ve turned out much worse.”
Chronic Wasting Disease is caused by a protein prion that damages the brain of infected animals, causing progressive neurological disease and loss of body condition. It’s untreatable and always fatal. It spreads through nose-to-nose contact between infected animals and through the animal’s bodily fluids. The prions that cause CWD can also last a long time in the environment, infecting new animals for decades, which is why Oregon has had a parts ban in place for 15 years.
“CWD is considered one of the most devastating wildlife diseases on the American landscape today,” said Colin Gillin, ODFW State Wildlife Veterinarian. “Once CWD enters a State and infects free-ranging deer and elk, it has been nearly impossible to eradicate with present day tools. So we want to do all we can to keep Oregon CWD-free.”
Oregon is still a CWD-free state. The disease has never been detected in a captive or free-ranging deer, elk or moose in Oregon. ODFW has been monitoring the state’s wildlife for the disease for years and is increasing its surveillance this year.
For example, ODFW is asking hunters interested in having their deer or elk tested for CWD to contact their local office to set up an appointment. ODFW is most interested in deer and elk that are at least two-years-old (e.g. not spikes). To get an animal CWD tested, hunters will need to bring in the animal’s head, which should be kept cool prior to sampling if possible. ODFW will also take a tooth for aging and hunters should receive a postcard several months later with information about the animal’s age.
CWD spreads most quickly through movement of live animals, although it can also spread by transport of carcasses by hunters or through infected migrating deer and elk. In addition to Montana, documented cases of CWD have occurred in Alberta, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Saskatchewan.