Wyoming Game and Fish Adds Option To Mandate CWD Testing

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will not require hunters to test meat for chronic wasting disease in 2018, despite having new authority to do so.

Earlier this year, the Game and Fish Commission and Gov. Matt Mead granted the department the power to require testing as a tool to try to contain the spread of the fatal neurological disease that affects many ungulate species.

For the 2018 hunting season, however, Game and Fish is encouraging voluntary testing.

“We’ve had good success getting help from hunters, so we want to continue with the voluntary approach,” said Renny MacKay, Game and Fish spokesman. “If that doesn’t work, we have this [mandatory] ability in place.”

Animals have tested positive for CWD in Park, Fremont, Sublette and Lincoln counties, but the disease has yet to reach Teton County, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CWD degenerates animals’ brains, causing emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death. The symptoms often begin long after an animal is infected, and animals that are killed and test positive for CWD often appear completely healthy. There is no known treatment for the disease.

The disease has had enough of an impact on ungulates across the state that Game and Fish created the new regulatory option to assist in monitoring and researching the disease, MacKay said. Voluntary testing by hunters assists the agency in its research.

In the absence of treatment options, Game and Fish is focusing on developing tools to research the spread of the disease and develop methods to control its spread, MacKay said.

“That’s all we can do right now,” he said.

The first cases of CWD in Wyoming were detected in 1985 in mule deer. The disease has since spread to elk and other species of deer and now affects ungulates in all but two counties in the state, Teton and Uinta.

Surveillance in 2017 focused mainly on the western edge of the known infected area, looking at the Cody, Green River, Jackson and Pinedale regions, according to a Game and Fish report. In 2017, Game and Fish discovered an infected mule deer near Pinedale, further northwest in the state than previous cases.

CWD affects animals in 23 states, including Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado and Utah. Most states have similar voluntary testing programs. In 2017, Colorado implemented a mandatory testing program in six hunt areas.

There has been no evidence of humans contracting CWD by consuming infected meat. Studies suggest the disease poses a risk to some primates, so humans should avoid eating infected meat, according to the CDC.