SALEM, Ore.—ODFW has been on the lookout for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) since the late 1990s. Over the past 20+ years, staff have collected and tested more than 23,000 samples from hunter harvested, roadkilled and other deer and elk found dead in Oregon. No Oregon animal has ever tested positive for CWD.
But the disease is now in much closer proximity to Oregon’s deer and elk populations. CWD was recently detected in two deer harvested by hunters in Idaho in October, in a hunt unit within 30 miles of the Snake River and Oregon’s border. (Idaho Fish and Game has taken immediate steps to increase surveillance to determine the prevalence rate of the disease in the area including via a special hunt.)
With Idaho’s detection, ODFW is ramping up CWD testing of deer and elk, especially in northeastern Oregon, and asking hunters, roadkill salvagers and others to help the Department look for any cases of the disease in Oregon deer and elk.
ODFW’s State Wildlife Veterinarian Colin Gillin has been active in national efforts to monitor and slow the spread of CWD for decades through participation in the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies Health Committee (AFWA). He currently serves in the leadership of the wildlife health committee and as a co-editor for national guidance on AFWA Best Management Practices for surveillance and response of CWD.
“The news of an Idaho detection is alarming, but we have been working for years to keep CWD out of Oregon and preparing to respond if it is detected here,” said Gillin.
The department has already emailed tag holders for ongoing and upcoming deer and elk hunts in select NE Oregon units requesting they provide parts from their deer or elk for testing if they are successful on the hunt. Barrels placed at various locations will make it easier for these hunters to submit a head for sampling by biologists and veterinarians.
Beginning in 2022, it will be mandatory for anyone transporting wildlife carcasses or parts to stop at a check station if they encounter one and to allow their animal to be tested.
A Cervid Parts Import Ban also remains in effect: Oregon residents or those traveling through who are returning from hunting out of state may not bring in certain cervid (deer, elk, and moose) parts that contain brain or spinal cord tissues as these are known to be tissues of CWD concentration in infected animals. Several hunters have been cited for violating this regulation, most recently in Klamath County. Oregonians who hunt in other states also need to be aware of and follow that state’s regulations for CWD.
What is CWD?
CWD is a fatal neurological disease found in the North American cervid family, which includes deer, elk and moose. A specific type of prion protein is the cause the disease, which damages the animal’s brain and causes progressive loss of body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation and eventual death. It was first identified among captive deer at a research facility in Colorado in 1967 according to the CWD Alliance.
The prions that cause the disease can last a long time in the environment, potentially reinfecting new animals that come in contact with infected soil or other surfaces. It is found in saliva, urine and feces and contaminates soil in the animal’s habitat. Because it can be passed in urine, the Oregon legislature banned the use or possession of commercial scent lures containing cervid urine beginning in 2020. More info
CWD is only considered a disease risk to cervids. There is no evidence it can spread to people through contact with a sick animal or consumption of meat from a sick animal. However, the CDC and state fish and wildlife agencies do not recommend the consumption of meat from any sick or infected animals (including those sick with CWD). CWD also does not spread to livestock.
What are the symptoms of CWD in deer and elk?
In most cases, it is difficult to determine if an animal has CWD until it is tested because the disease takes months to several years to cause clinical symptoms and eventual death.
Deer and elk with late stage CWD suffer a loss of bodily functions which causes abnormal behaviors like:
Note that other diseases or parasites present in deer and elk can cause similar symptoms, especially in chronic cases. More information at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/
What should I do if I see an animal I think might have CWD?
Hunters should not shoot a deer or elk that appears sick. If you find evidence of disease after you have shot it, ODFW veterinarians recommend that you do not eat the meat and call your local ODFW biologist.
What steps will ODFW take if an animal tests positive?
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine, treatment or cure for CWD and no effective way to eradicate it once it is established in a population. But if CWD is detected in Oregon, ODFW will further increase testing of deer and elk in that area to gain a better understanding of the prevalence and distribution of the disease. Knowing where the disease exists will help ODFW target monitoring and sampling efforts and control the disease’s prevalence.
“Reducing the density of animals in infected populations slows the spread of the disease, particularly by culling older animals as they tend to have a higher prevalence due to more time and opportunity to come in contact with the disease,” said Gillin. “Adult males also have higher prevalence due to their behaviors such as licking, grooming, bachelor groups, and breeding behavior.”
If CWD is detected in Oregon, emergency regulations may be needed including special carcass disposal rules to avoid prions being left on the landscape or testing of all hunter-harvested deer and elk in infected hunt areas.
States with CWD infected animals have not seen large population declines in their deer and elk populations, says Gillin. But research indicates declines may be possible if there is high prevalence of the disease—another reason why limiting the occurrence of CWD in the population will be important even though the disease can’t be eradicated.
Roadkill sampling resumes, mandatory check stations in 2022
When the Oregon legislature passed a law allowing the salvage of roadkilled deer and elk a few years ago, an administrative rule also required that salvaged animal heads be brought to ODFW offices for CWD testing. Research indicates animals with CWD are less likely to be able to avoid an approaching vehicle, making them good candidates to test for the disease.
Mandatory roadkill check-in requirement has temporarily been limited to male deer and elk since March 2020 due to Covid related office closures. With state offices set to reopen Jan. 3, 2022, surrender of heads from all salvaged deer and elk will again be required for testing as described in the permanent rules. Anyone who salvages a deer or elk will be required to bring in the head and antlers to an ODFW office within five days for testing. More about salvage program
HB 3152, a bill introduced by the Oregon Hunters Association and passed by the 2021 Oregon State Legislature, requires that anyone transporting harvested wildlife or parts of harvested wildlife stop at a check station, if they encounter one, beginning in 2022. Additional information and rule language will be available prior to the fall hunting season when ODFW expects to host mandatory check stations again.