Riverton Hunt Area 157 is Ground Zero for Chronic Wasting Disease

1 month ago WyoToday.com

The hunt area with the highest rate of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) for mule deer in Wyoming is the Project Herd, located in and around Riverton. That’s hunt area #157. The incidence of CWD in the mule deer herd here is exceeding 65 percent, said Riverton Game Warden Jon Desonier at the Farm and Ranch Days last week at the Fairgrounds in Riverton. “I want to impress on everybody how serious this is,” Desonier said. 

According to the WGFD, “CWD is lethal in deer and is a growing concern statewide. In recent years, an unusually high percentage of deer have tested positive in Fremont County.” It is a disease of the brain in which there is no treatment.  The disease can live in the environment for up to 16 years, so any deer grazing where the disease is in the ground or in vegetation, can be exposed. The long life of the disease is the major challenge for fighting it. Desonier said because the deer do not have any immune response to CWD, there is no vaccination possible as there are no antibodies produced by the deer.

Fortunately, Desonier said the incidence of the disease is whitetail deer is much lower, around 24 percent here over the past three years.  Only one positive case in elk has been recorded in the hunt area. The problem is with the mule deer. 

The Riverton Game Warden said the disease “shows no clinical signs in affected deer during the disease’s incubation, but for the last 4 to 8 weeks, deer show significant weight loss, drooling, droopy ears and a lack of awareness of what, or who, is around them,” he said. The disease is spread animal to animal and from the environment to animal. “Most deer die with two years of being infected, the mortality in elk usually is four years.” Desonier said there has not been a single case of a human catching CWD, but he also said the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization does not recommend consuming venison from a infected deer. “It’s a personal decision,” he said. When harvested, deer can be tested for the disease, which he said usually takes about three weeks or less after a sample is sent to the G&F Lab in Laramie. 

The Game and Fish have been sampling deer for the past quarter century and have taken 79,000 samples to study. He noted that 34 of the state’s 37 mule deer herds in the state have been found with CWD. None, though, as many as in area #157. In elk, 15 of the states 36 herds have tested positive for the disease. He also said the preliminary results from 2022 sampling are the same as the results from the past three years. 

So, how to get a handle on this disease? He said higher deer tag numbers would decrease the density of the herd, and that would be a start. But he said, “you’ll be seeing fewer deer on the landscape.” He said the G&F, Tribal Fish and Game, USFS and the USGS are all cooperating in a local study that will help game management decisions. 

“This will not be a short term fix,” he said, “We’re looking at a long time down the road, perhaps 10 years or more, before we can get a handle on it here.”

Additional information on CWD can be found on the Wyoming Game and Fish Website. 



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