GF&P proposes rules to combat CWD spread

Chronic wasting disease has been discovered in elk and deer from four counties in South Dakota. New rules proposed by the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Commission are meant to help slow the spread of disease. Pioneer file photo by Mark Watson

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SPEARFISH — The South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Commission proposed rules on how to transport elk and deer harvested from area of South Dakota where chronic wasting disease (CWD) as been discovered.

The rules, if adopted at the commission’s October meeting in Chamberlain, would take effect for the 2020 season.

Initially the commission’s proposals called for a variety of options including up to prohibiting elk and deer harvested from the endemic areas of the state, or out-of-state animals, to travel throughout the state. The only exception would be for boned-out meat. 

Hides and antlers attached to a skull would be prohibited.

However the proposal was revised, “to allow for, I’d guess you’d call it, a carcass allowance,” said Chad Switzer, wildlife program administrator with the GF&P.

The proposal now requires hunters who harvest elk and deer in CWD endemic areas to dispose of the carcass to a waste management provider or in a permitted landfill.

The same rule applies to butcher shops and to taxidermists.

Wildlife harvested from across state lines must also be disposed of properly.

Endemic areas are in Lawrence, Custer, Fall River, and Pennington counties as well as Custer State Park. The rules would apply for deer hunting areas:

CUD-CU1, BHD-BH1, BHD-BD1, BHD-BD2, WRD-02A, WRD-

21A, WRD-21B, WRD-27A, WRD-27B and WRD-27L.

It would also apply to elk hunting areas:

CUE-CU1, CEE-CU1, BHE-H2, BHE-H3, BHE-H4, BHE-H5,

BHE-H7, BHE-H9 and PRE-27A.

It is these areas that the GF&P has detected at least one positive case of CWD in a wild animal.

“If we detect one positive we likely know there are others,” Switzer said.

CWD can be transmitted among cervids, the family elk and deer belong to, by direct contact as well as to environments contaminated with CWD.

Since CWD is a protein, not a virus or bacteria, it is very difficult to destroy. Not even incinerating it will destroy the disease.

“It’s built upon amino acids and various organic compounds and proteins are the building block of life. It’s not a true living organism so it’s hard to remove from the environment,” Switzer said.

That is what concerns Switzer so much with improper carcass disposal.

“We aren’t going to be able to eliminate CWD based on what we know of the disease now,” he said. “Anything we can proactively do to minimize the spread and slow it is what we want to do.”

For example, a deer with CWD may be shot by a hunter and then transported to a CWD-free zone. If that carcass, once the meat is removed, is dumped improperly, then the chance of CWD being introduced to the area occurs.

“It’s at a level that it concerns us and grabs our attention. Folks need to look long term and not just how is this going to affect five or 10 years from now, but 50-100 years from now,” he said. 

As more animals contract CWD, the population numbers will be negatively impacted.

Chronic wasting disease is an always fatal neurological disease that impacts the cervid family - deer and elk as well as moose and reindeer.

It is similar to scrapies in sheep and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. CWD is not believed to be transmittable to humans; however wildlife officials caution people to avoid contact with animals that appear sick. The only way to positively test for the disease is to examine the brain of the animal. This rules out testing live animals. 

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 in2001. A deer shot during in Fall River County tested positive, and since then it has spread to three other counties.

According to the state’s CWD plan, adopted by the GF&P in July, since 2001, 135 whitetail deer, 89 mule deer, and 201 elk have tested positive. Last hunting season, Switzer said, about a dozen buck deer were killed in the Custer State Park hunting season last year. Half tested positive. In Wind Cave National Park, the prevalence rate is around 15%, much higher than previously anticipated, he said.

Switzer encouraged people to read the CWD plan found at https://gfp.sd.gov/userdocs/docs/Draft_SD_CWD_Action_Plan_040319.pdf

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