CWD expert: Wolves & hunters can help minimize spread of deadly protein

FILE — Idaho Fish and Game workers wear gloves as they remove the lymph nodes from a deer to test for chronic wasting disease in late 2021.

A cow elk harvested near White Bird tested positive for chronic wasting disease, marking the first time in Idaho the illness has been found in a cervid species other than deer.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game announced the positive test Wednesday and said the illness was also detected in a hunter-killed whitetail doe. That brings the total number of CWD detections in the state to six.

CWD is a fatal and contagious neurological disorder affecting deer, elk, moose and caribou. It was discovered in the state for the first time in October when hunters submitted samples from a pair of mule deer bucks killed in the Slate Creek drainage near Lucile.

In response, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission established a Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone in hunting units 14 and 15. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game authorized special surveillance hunts in the two units as well as portions of boarding units.

According to a Fish and Game news release, about 550 samples were collected in the area. The six positive tests came from two mule deer bucks, two whitetail bucks, the whitetail doe and the cow elk. All of the positive tests came from Unit 14. The whitetail doe was killed about 4 miles south of Slate Creek and in the same area as the other positive deer cases. The elk was killed about 1.5 miles northeast of White Bird.

Lab results are pending on about 10 samples. The rest tested negative.

The disease, which is found in 27 states and four Canadian provinces, is caused by a misfolded protein. The abnormal proteins, known as prions, accumulate in the spinal columns and brain tissues of the animals and eventually cause brain damage.

Although it has never been shown to infect humans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people not to consume meat from animals with the disease. Rules governing the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Zone prohibit the feeding of deer and elk and forbid the removal of the heads or spinal columns of deer and elk, including salvaged road-killed animals.

More information is available at idfg.idaho.gov/cwd.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.