The Fall Creek Elk Herd has been designated a focus of monitoring for the spread and prevalence of chronic wasting disease, and there’s a call out to hunters to help.
Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, has been detected in mule deer in the
region, but not yet in elk. Nevertheless, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department wants to know as soon as possible once the lethal cervid malady crosses species, and to that end the Fall Creek Herd has been designated as a focal herd for the now-underway 2020 hunting season.
The approximately 5,000-animal herd roams primarily in elk hunt units 84 and 85, which are just south of Jackson in parts of the Gros Ventre, Snake River and Wyoming ranges. The bow hunting season in these units started last week, and the rifle season is upcoming in a couple weeks.
“We are asking hunters in these hunt areas to please submit a lymph node sample from their harvested deer or elk for testing,” Hank Edwards, Game and Fish’s Wildlife Health Laboratory supervisor, said in a press release. “The samples hunters submit are critical to monitoring CWD within Wyoming’s deer and elk populations.”
The retropharyngeal lymph node, which Edwards refers to, is a fatty tissue about the size of a gummy bear that’s located near the esophagus of elk and other ungulates. Although brainstems and other bodily matter can also reveal prions, the infectious vector of CWD, the lymph nodes are the preferred tissue for testing.
Game and Fish employees oftentimes extract the lymph nodes themselves at hunter check stations, but not in numbers needed to statistically determine whether CWD exists in a herd — or its prevalence. Especially in the early season when hunters are concentrated on summer range in the backcountry, lymph nodes and brain matter are often left in the field.
An instructional video that shows how to extract the nodes is posted on Game and Fish’s website at WGFD.wyo.gov.
Elk herds that dwell in the Wyoming and Salt River ranges are also among the ranks of the focal herds for 2020. There are also focus areas used by the Pinedale Elk Herd in the Wind River Range.
The nearest deer hunt area selected as a focus area for 2020 is near the Wind River Indian Reservation, in units 157 and 171.