James Snell – firstname.lastname@example.org
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a highly contagious and fatal condition affecting the deer family (cervids) – elk, moose, deer and others. It’s an imminent threat to Kootenay ecology, particularly as hunting season continues along the U.S. border. CWD is present, and under heavy surveillance, in Alberta and Libby Montana, 60 km south of the B.C. border.
During hunting season from Sept. 1- Nov. 30, the Province is asking hunters to drop off the heads of both deer species from specific wildlife management units along the southern Canada/U.S. border that include 4-1, 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5, 4-6, 4-7.
Symptoms of CWD are emaciation, stumbling and drooling. However, the disease is not obvious in early stages. Anyone observing a cervid with those symptoms is encouraged to call the provincial Wildlife Health Program at 250-751-3219 or the Report all Poachers and Polluters hotline at 1-877-952-7277.
The Government of Montana has established “CWD Management Zones where CWD is known to exist. To prevent the spread of CWD from infected areas of Montana to other parts of the state, the whole carcass, whole head, brain, or spinal column from any deer, elk, or moose harvested within a CWD Management Zone may not be removed from that Management Zone unless the animal has tested negative for CWD.”
The B.C. Government website states, “CWD can be transmitted through saliva, urine, feces, carcasses and even plants and soil.”
The disease, which is similar to BSE (mad cow disease), can devastate animal populations. As of 2013, no evidence has been found of the disease affecting humans, but that possibility is being surveilled by public health officials and researchers.
Cait Nelson, a Wildlife Health Biologist with the B.C. Government Wildlife Health Program, said that CWD has not yet been detected in B.C. Notwithstanding, she is concerned about its spread from Alberta or Montana.
“We’ve tested over 4000 animals since 2002.” she said. “But unfortunately, the sample size that we get year to year has not been consistently high enough or sufficient to give us real confidence in a disease free status.”
Nelson said there are regulations and proactive strategies in place to protect B.C. from CWD.
“We’ve never farmed native cervid species in B.C.,” she explained. “For a long time there’s been a ban on importing live species of the deer family. Those types of things have helped [us] to avoid the introduction of this disease. We prohibit the import of intact cervid carcasses that have been harvested outside the province.”
The largest risk factor for CWD coming into the province is infiltration from South-Central Alberta said Nelson.
“Alberta has a very extensive surveillance program, so we have confidence in where the disease was, and what areas of Alberta it was present in,” Nelson said. “We are watching it year to year track across Alberta and move towards the B.C. border.”
Nelson said the spread of CWD was happening very slowly, and considered a low risk. Then a surprise happened.
“In June, we got confirmation of chronic wasting disease in white tail deer in Libby Montana,” she explained. “This was the first time it was detected west of the Rockies, the closest it’s come to our province. It increased the risk, so now our priority is to confirm if it’s in our province.”
That’s why the Province issued a general order under the Animal Health Act making it a legal requirement for hunters to submit the head of any deer that was harvested along the B.C./ Montana border.
“That was important to make sure we had a sample so we can have confidence in the results, and can confirm our CWD free status,” Nelson said. “We ask hunters to submit the head of deer, elk and moose. [Although] the order only applies to mule deer and white tail deer, but we will accept the head of any cervid.”
The B.C. Government has a number of freezer drop-off / CWD testing locations set up in the Kootenay region. Accessing the B.C. Government website, gov.bc.ca/chronicwastingdisease, is critical for all cervid hunters.
Locations for CWD testing across the
• Aqam (St. Mary’s) Ktunaxa Nation,
• Elkford Rod and Gun Club, United Steel
Workers Local 7884 Union Hall, Elkford
• Golden Rod and Gun Club, Golden
• Grasmere General Store, Grasmere
• Gwinner’s Country Butcher, Kimberley
• Jaffray Sports and Hardware, Jaffray 24/7
• Kimberley Sausage and Meats, Kimberley
Customer drop-off only
• Rick’s Fine Meat and Sausage, Cranbrook
• Rocky Mountain Meats, Sparwood
• Skyway Auto Service, Creston
• South Country Services, Elko
• Two Pump Paul’s, Yahk
• Wes’s Country Meats, Fernie
• Wynndel Foods, Wynndel