CWD sampling

Wyoming Game and Fish Department CWD biologist Aaron Morehead hauls out bags filled with hunter-killed elk heads last fall. The state agency convened a working group to rewrite a management plan for the disease.

Wyoming wildlife officials are about halfway through the citizen-driven process of rewriting a management plan for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

Over the course of the summer and early fall, 31 residents convened in Casper and Lander on three occasions to hash out points of agreement on how to best tackle the lethal malady, which infects elk, deer and moose. Now, a report is out synthesizing nine of their recommendations and 43 sub-recommendations, results that are soon to be presented in a series of five public meetings.

Listed first among the recommendations, for example, was a consensus that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department “takes action to reduce artificial points of concentration,” which itself is then broken into four sub-recommendations. Those are: for the Wyoming Legislature to give Game and Fish authority to ban private feeding of wild cervids; that the state “collaborate at a local level” to reduce artificially concentrated wild ungulates; that the state agency work closely with local constituencies to eliminate artificial feeding; and, last, that Game and Fish work with another stakeholder group to reevaluate the elk feedgrounds — a topic that otherwise was not addressed.

The other recommendations address topics relating to: disposal of big game carcasses; education and communication; habitats and CWD; migration; management recommended elsewhere; surveillance and monitoring; and research.

CWD is a counterpart to mad cow disease in cows and scabies in sheep that was first detected in wild ungulates in northeast Colorado and southeast Wyoming in the 1970s. It has slowly spread throughout North America ever since, and has now infected animals in 25 states and overseas. The disease’s first confirmed occurrence in Teton County was about a year ago, when a road-killed mule deer buck found near Kelly tested positive.

CWD can drive down populations of ungulates, has no known cure and can survive outside of animal hosts in the environment for years, and because of those challenges it’s of grave concern to wildlife professionals around the country and the world.

Game and Fish last updated its CWD management plan in 2016, but in the following years employees took heat from their commissioners for being perceived as the do-nothing “control” by other states dealing with the disease.

The planning process and interim report just released are part of another revision to those plans. The Ruckelshaus Institute of the University of Wyoming’s Haub School of Environmental and Natural Resources is facilitating.

The working group’s report is available now and is posted alongside the online version of this story. About a month from now, the revised draft CWD management plan will be released and opened up to public comment through Jan. 15. Game and Fish will be hosting a series of associated public meetings, the soonest of which will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 2 in Pinedale at the Sublette County Library.

Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them for 7 years. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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