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Northwest Wildlife Agencies Scrambling To Keep Region Free Of Chronic Wasting Disease

Tom Koerner
File photo. Chronic wasting disease was recently discovered in two mule deer in Montana.

Hunters will no longer be allowed to bring certain big game across state lines from Montana into Washington. That’s because of Chronic Wasting Disease, a deadly neurological disease that affects members of the deer family.

The disease was detected in Montana for the first time this fall. That’s why hunters are barred from bringing any central nervous system tissue from Montana to Oregon. That includes parts like the brain or spinal cord.

Washington is taking things a step further. An emergency order filed earlier this month means no deer, elk or moose harvested in Montana is allowed to cross the Washington border at all.

CWD is 100 percent fatal. It makes elk, deer and moose drool, grind their teeth and appear increasingly nervous. The disease hasn’t been known to spread to humans, but officials still caution hunters about eating meat from infected animals.

CWD has been reported in two Canadian provinces and 23 U.S. states.

In eastern Oregon this fall, the state set up check-stations on I-84 and near Prineville, where hunters could have carcasses tested. For the first time, the department is monitoring for CWD in the western half of the state.

“We’re stepping up our monitoring efforts this year, including doing more roadkill,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

Oregon has banned the importation of nervous system parts from a list of U.S. states and Canadian provinces for 15 years. A similar ban has been in place in Washington since the 1990s.

Earlier this month, a man from Madras, Oregon, was cited for transporting CWD-contaminated deer meat from Montana.

“The reason we found out about this deer that had CWD is because Montana let us know,” Dennehy said. “So certainly, we have good relationships with state fish and wildlife agencies, and that includes Washington.”

Officials retrieved some of the meat. However, some parts of the animal were disposed of at a local landfill following the butchering process. ODFW does not believe the contaminated scraps pose a threat to other wildlife.

Because the disease can be so devastating to wildlife, officials are ramping up their efforts to stop its spread. Dennehy said violating the rules is a class A misdemeanor in Oregon. Dennehy said said the maximum penalty is $6,250 and up to one year in jail.

Dennehy said ODFW is trying to raise awareness among hunters. They are also informing commercial meat processors about the disease.