Locally harvested deer to be tested for neurological disease
This rifle season Colorado Parks and Wildlife is requiring thousands of deer hunters to submit their harvested animals for testing of a neurological disease among Colorado’s cervid herds.
Rifle season buck hunters in particular game management units across the state will be required to have their harvested deer tested for chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose that is caused by abnormally shaped proteins, called prions, that attack the animal’s brain. The disease is more prominent in deer and elk. Deer suffering from CWD are often uncoordinated, behave abnormally and become emaciated. A deer with CWD will eventually die from the disease.
A couple of the game management units that are requiring testing are in Glenwood Springs’ backyard. Those include game management units that cover much of the Flat Tops Wilderness and an area immediately north of Rifle, Silt and New Castle. Across the state, 21 game management units will require CWD testing for harvested bucks. Only in GMU 33, which covers a large swath immediately north of Interstate 70 at Rifle and New Castle, are hunters required to submit both their male or female harvest.
“Some mule deer herds were chosen because we already have good historical information on CWD prevalence, and we wanted to test whether CWD prevalence has changed over time,” said Mike Porras, CPW northwest region spokesman.
According to CPW, about half of the deer herds and one-third of elk herds in Colorado are infected by CWD, presenting a significant threat to the health of the cervid populations. Deer and other animals infected with CWD have shortened life spans. “As a larger proportion of the population becomes infected, older age classes suffer high rates of mortality, and the average age declines. If CWD infection rates are high enough, the population may not be able to sustain itself,” according to CPW.
And there may be a risk to public health, though no cases have been found of the disease being transferred to humans.
Mad cow disease is another commonly known “prion disease” that “has been linked to a similar disease in people known as variant (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease),” according to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recommendations for avoiding prion diseases. “Unpublished research from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has shown that some monkeys that are closely related to people can get CWD from eating meat from infected deer. This means it might be possible for people to get CWD from eating meat from infected animals, but no cases of CWD in people have been found so far,” according to CDPHE.
Hunters are advised to avoid contact with any deer, elk or moose that look sick or are acting abnormally. CPW recommends that you not shoot, handle or eat such an animal.
“When field-dressing game, wear rubber gloves and minimize the use of a bone saw to cut through the brain or spinal cord. Minimize contact with brain or spinal cord tissues, eyes, spleen or lymph nodes. Always wash hands and utensils thoroughly after dressing and processing game meat,” the agency recommends.
For nearly 20 years CPW has periodically required hunters to submit their deer harvests during “‘disease management’ seasons, in some Front Range game management units during regular seasons, and, until just a few years ago, for moose harvested statewide,” said Porras. “We use this tool when needed to help answer management questions related to chronic wasting disease.
“All hunters who drew licenses in hunt codes corresponding to the seasons and units of interest were selected. Only hunters that drew antlered deer rifle licenses were selected for mandatory testing, except in GMU 33, where all hunters licensed for the GMU were selected. Over 8,700 hunters were selected for mandatory testing; however, due to outdated mailing address information, notification letters were sent to about 8,500 hunters,” he said.
Hunters who are required to submit their harvested deer for testing will have to submit their animal’s head, ideally within five days after it’s killed.
“The samples used for testing can be collected without damaging the cape or mount,” said Porras. “There may be some resistance from hunters because at times of high submission rates, hunters may have to leave their deer head for sampling and come back the following day to pick it up, which might be an inconvenience. CPW will work to minimize such inconvenience.”
Failing to submit a sample if you are a hunter who was selected could result in a $72.50 fine and five suspension points on your hunting license. “CPW is urging hunters to comply and avoid the possibility of fines,” said Porras. “With thousands of hunters in the field, and the expected compliance with the CWD testing requirement, it is the most effective method for CPW to gather the number of samples necessary for effective study and research,” he said. “Data from harvested bucks are most consistently available over time, allowing us to better assess long-term trends. We have focused on rifle seasons because that’s when most harvest occurs.”
Visit cpw.state.co.us/cwd for more information on how to submit a harvested deer for CWD testing.