CWD

Wildlife managers want Jackson Hole’s big game hunters to provide lymph nodes, like the one pictured, for chronic wasting disease testing. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has created focus areas for study and raffle drawings for participants.

Rifle season for big game in much of Northwest Wyoming kicks off with deer hunting on Wednesday, and wildlife managers want hunters who harvest to take one extra body part with them.

Specifically, a lymph node. They’re urging hunters to teach themselves how to carve out the node from the retropharyngeal area, which is to say the back of the throat. Finding the gummy bear-sized gland is important because it’s a small body part that can easily be tested for chronic wasting disease, an incurable and lethal sickness that’s making inroads into deer and elk populations in the Jackson Hole region.

“We’re just trying to get as many samples as we can to track the trends here and learn how quickly it’s spreading,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department wildlife biologist Aly Courtemanch told the Jackson Hole Daily.

The Game and Fish Department has a surveillance system in place that identifies different “focus” hunt areas, where the state sets out to collect a statistically significant volume of CWD samples. This year those focus areas blanket a large portion of huntable public land in the agency’s Jackson Region, and they’re applicable for both elk and deer.

For deer, hunt units 146 and 150-156 have all been designated as focal areas. In elk, units 70, 71, 75, 77-85 and 88-91 are special CWD surveillance areas.

Game and Fish’s goal is to collect at least 200 samples from hunter-killed animals in each targeted herd. Locally, that means the Jackson and Fall Creek elk herds, and the Wyoming Range and Sublette mule deer herds.

It’s a safe bet to say that most wild game meat filling Teton County residents’ freezers comes from animals that are considered parts of those four herds.

The prion disease the state is on the lookout for is a relatively recent invader of the southern Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The first detection in Jackson Hole proper was in a road-killed mule deer buck hit near Kelly in 2018. Then in December of 2020 a hunter shot a cow elk in Grand Teton National Park that would go on to test positive. That marked the first time CWD was confirmed in an elk that dwells in the region of the state where the ungulates concentrate most tightly on winter feedgrounds, potentially exacerbating the disease’s spread.

Although the degenerative brain-wasting disease has not been documented hopping species from cervids to people, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructs hunters not to consume meat from infected animals. A cousin of CWD, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, does affect humans.

The state of Wyoming has not yet required hunters to submit CWD samples from their harvested animals in most places.

Instead, locally, they’re debuting a carrot approach. Hunters who voluntarily submit lymph nodes will be automatically entered into a “CWD raffle” for two tiers of prizes.

The top tier, where prizes exceed $8,000 in value, is for hunters who submit samples from adult buck deer (both whitetail and mule deer) and bull elk from targeted CWD monitoring areas.

A secondary tier of prizes — over $2,000 in value — are for all other CWD samples submitted, regardless of what hunt area they came from or species, sex or age.Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

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 since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

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