Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking to understand how widespread chronic wasting disease in Montana by stepping up sampling efforts with white-tailed deer this hunting season.
The initial detection of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, west of the Continental Divide happened near Libby in late May. Since then, five deer have tested positive for the disease. So far the disease has only been confirmed in wild deer in Montana.
As of Aug. 1, 62 samples, primarily from white-tailed deer and a handful of mule deer and moose, were collected near Libby. FWP has been working with the City of Libby and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department to collect samples, mostly from road-killed animals. Officials have also been killing deer that already look sickly.
FWP is still waiting for results on nearly half of the samples it has collected, and the department announced today that it plans to increase sampling efforts this fall.
“We’re going to be setting up some clover traps, which are mesh cages, and on public property we’ve been given permission to set those up and collect deer that way,” Spokesperson Dillon Tabish said. “Then we’ll take them off site to euthanize them and collect a sample that way.”
FWP will also make 600 extra antlerless white-tailed deer tags available for both archers and rifle hunters. Those permits will span three hunting districts near Libby, and all harvested animals will need to be sampled for CWD to help officials understand the disease’s local prevalence.
Tabish said the effort will also help thin the local herd, limiting CWD’s spread. The disease can easily move through herds because it is transmitted by contact and can also remain in the environment long after an animal is dead.
“That CWD can transfer into the ground and up into the grass or bushes, and then if a deer comes in contact or ingests that, they could become infected,” Tabish explained. “We’re hoping this prevalence is going to be very low in this Libby area, and we’re doing the best we can to contain it.”
FWP plans to hold informational meetings in Kalispell, Trout Creek, Polson, Eureka and Libby leading up to the start of the archery season in September.