SPEARFISH — State wildlife managers have confirmed that chronic wasting disease has been detected in three more West River counties.
One hunter-harvested whitetail buck from each Butte and Corson counties tested positive as well as two mule deer bucks in Haakon County.
This brings the number of counties in South Dakota with confirmed cases to 12 – eight of which were added to the endemic area list in the fall. This means the majority of West River counties are considered endemic areas as at least one animal has tested positive for the disease.
Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator for the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks said the addition of counties into the endemic area is concerning, but cautioned that the disease may have been in the area previously but is only being discovered now.
“These new findings don’t mean that its spread further in the past six months, a year, or two but these are areas we’ve not done much surveillance in the past. It might just be we are identifying the presence the disease now,” Switzer said.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a progressive neurologic disease of deer, elk, and moose — members of the cervidae family — caused by an abnormal prion protein in the brain of affected animals. It cannot be transmitted to other species such as antelope, bison, or bighorn sheep. It can be transmitted to other cervids through saliva, urine, feces, and other bodily fluids. The disease is not known to affect humans and is not transmissible to other livestock species.
All counties East River are CWD-free in wild herds; however, a captive elk herd had a single cow elk test positive for the disease in March 2019. It had come from a Meade County captive herd that contained other animals that began to show clinical symptoms in September 2019. Both herds have since been destroyed.
Switzer said a handful of whitetails near the Meade County facility have tested positive for CWD, but he declined to speculate which animals were infected first – which came first, the chicken or the egg?
The South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Commission has taking steps to help decrease the spread of the disease. Hunters who harvest animals, starting this year, from inside the endemic areas are prohibited from disposing of carcasses outside approved disposal areas such as landfills. Hunters are permitted to have their animals packaged at a meat-processing plan and to have antlers mounted by taxidermists.
The disposal rules are in place to prevent CWD from infecting areas that are currently free from the disease.
The transmission of CWD from diseased animals to healthy ones is believed to be through direct animal to animal contact and/or contamination of feed or water sources with saliva, urine, and/or feces. According to the GF&P, evidence shows that infected carcasses may serve as a source of infection. CWD seems more likely to occur in areas where deer or elk are crowded or where they congregate at man-made feed and water stations. Artificial feeding of deer and elk will likely compound the problem.
Switzer said wildlife managers are expecting to discuss defining endemic areas better at the March commission meeting.
“Are the rules we have in place right now with the commission enough to really have an effect on the artificial spread of CWD … it may or may not be,” he said. “We are having discussions on whether we should be strengthening those regulations.”
CWD was first discovered at a mule deer captive facility owned by the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1967. In South Dakota, it was first documented in 2001.
To learn more about CWD, visit https://gfp.sd.gov/chronic-wasting-disease/.
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