ENTERPRISE EDITORIAL: Chronic Wasting Disease in the crosshairs

It was welcome news to learn that recent testing for chronic wasting disease in Park County found no positive samples. Yet wildlife officials point out there’s no guarantee the disease doesn’t exist here.

“The conclusion we draw from (the testing) is not that any hunting district that didn’t have a positive is now free of CWD,” Greg Lemon, an administrator with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, told The Livingston Enterprise earlier this week.

FWP wasn’t able to reach its surveillance goal and officials said that with the data that was collected, the agency had a 66 percent probability of detecting CWD if the prevalence within the sampled population was 1 percent or greater.

If you visited your doctor for a problem and were told the medical staff would have only a 66 percent probability of detecting a disease, you would likely consider getting a second opinion. 

Or in FWP’s case, you continue monitoring, gathering data and working with hunters to get an early jump on CWD after it was detected last year for the first time in wild herds in Montana. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the agency did. Park County was included in a larger sampling area during the general hunting season. The area stretched across south-central Montana from the Livingston area to east of Billings. The presence of CWD in Montana should be a concern to all hunters in the Treasure State. CWD is an untreatable, contagious neurological disease that kills elk, deer and moose. There is no evidence that CWD can be transferred to humans, but the disease can wreak havoc on wildlife populations.  

FWP says it will continue an aggressive monitoring program in its effort to determine the prevalence and geographic distribution of CWD in Montana. Once those questions are answered, the agency must have an open and transparent discussion with the public about what steps should be taken moving forward.

Currently, the agency sends samples it gathers at game check stations, from road kill and during special hunts to Colorado State University and results are returned in a week or two. Perhaps future discussions should include whether Montana should conduct its own testing — possibly at a regional FWP headquarters or one of our universities, as wildlife diseases are an increasing issue.

In the meantime, FWP is monitoring the disease by organizing special hunts. One such hunt kicks off Saturday north of Chester. Montanans participated in another special hunt south of Laurel. 

FWP asks that anyone who sees symptoms of CWD — abnormal behavior, emaciation, loss of bodily function and death — to contact the Region 3 headquarters at 994-4042.

With the early work of FWP and hunters, we can only hope the coming years bring more disease-free samplings from the region’s wildlife.

— Justin Post
Enterprise Managing Editor