Game and Fish now requires CWD sampling from some hunters

WYOMING -- For the first time ever, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is requiring some hunters to collect samples from deer they kill to help monitor the spread of fatal, incurable chronic wasting disease.

The agency imposed the requirement for hunters in deer hunt areas 96 and 97, home of the Sweetwater Herd. The areas straddle the Sweetwater River southeast of Lander and include popular hunt areas around Sweetwater Rocks, Green Mountain and riparian lands along the river.

Archery season is underway in the two areas and rifle season begins Oct. 15.

The Game and Fish Department seeks to accurately gauge the prevalence of CWD in deer herds across the state. It is difficult, however, to get enough samples without the help of hunters as the agency found out last year. “We can only set up check stations in so many cases,” said Daryl Lutz, Game and Fish Department wildlife management coordinator in Lander.

Regulations govern the movement and disposal of game animal parts from endemic areas in an effort to limit CWD spread.

The civilian-appointed Game and Fish Commission approved the regulations in 2018, Scott Edberg, the agency’s deputy chief of wildlife, said in an email. “(T)he 2021 hunting season for Deer Hunt Areas 96 and 97 is the first time we implemented the requirements,” he wrote. CWD sample collection from the Grand Teton National Park elk reduction program and National Elk Refuge hunt are the purview of the federal government, but conducted in cooperation with the state.

Chronic Wasting Disease, an incurable and always fatal disorder of the central nervous system, emerged among deer in southwest Wyoming in 1985. Game and Fish has been tracking its spread and is seeking ways to reduce its prevalence and transmission. Biologists agree they have much to learn from the malady, believed to have spread from a Colorado research facility. A cousin of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in humans and Mad Cow Disease, it has not been firmly proven to be transmissible to humans, although some research suggests it could cross the species barrier.

Hunters can learn how to extract a lymph node by watching a video, or they can bring the animal’s head to the nearest check station or Game and Fish office.

“While people are more than welcome to take their own (sample) we do encourage people to get [the head] to us,” Lutz said. “It ensures we get the right sample. We’re making ourselves readily available to help people comply with the mandatory sampling.”

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.