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Sundance is implementing a year-round deer cull to curb chronic wasting disease

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The City of Sundance recently implemented a year-round deer cull after evidence indicated that chronic wasting disease (CWD) may be more prevalent than previously thought in the area’s deer populations. CWD is a deadly disease that affects deer, elk, and moose. It’s spread through contact with an affected animal or its feces. The city has received licenses to cull deer in previous years to reduce conflicts between residents and deer.

“Sundance was the first town in Wyoming where we started authorizing what we call a Chapter 56 permit. It's essentially a kill permit,” said Justin Binfet, Wildlife Management Coordinator for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department’s Casper region, which includes Crook County. “This originated in Sundance several years ago and it was always done under the guise of just reducing urban deer densities to minimize conflict with deer. The whole notion behind reducing the deer densities in the town of Sundance was independent of CWD.”

The Black Hills region has one of the highest deer densities in Wyoming if you count both mule and white-tailed deer.

But despite CWD having yet to become as prevalent and widespread in the Black Hills as it has in other regions of the state, there is increasing concern about higher positive test rates. This region previously experienced positive rates of around two to three percent. That figure now stands at seven percent. And Sundance’s rate has hovered at approximately twice that. The disease began to gain prevalence in the area in 2020 when it was confirmed in a bull elk in Crook County and again in 2022 in the Black Hills when it appeared in deer in the Game & Fish’s sampling program.

The department normally issues cull licenses for 50 deer per year, but it recently issued Sundance a permit that allows for 100 total deer to be culled to reduce CWD in the area because seven of 50 deer culled last year tested positive for CWD.

“Ever since the original Chapter 56 was put in place for the city of Sundance, it's always been done with the direction that the meat will be donated. So in order for us to do that, we have to actually have every deer tested for chronic wasting disease before it can be donated,” he said.

The department follows the official World Health Organization guidelines that an animal that tests positive for the disease can’t be used for human consumption.

The Game and Fish has also revamped their CWD surveillance and monitoring efforts across the state over the past five years. The increased monitoring efforts have provided more information about the situation in the area.

“We detected CWD [in] multiple juvenile and yearling animals, which is not unprecedented, but that tells you that CWD is probably well established within that segment of the deer herd, and so it kind of just prompted us [to take] action,” he said.

CWD has since been detected in every region of the state except southwest Wyoming. It’s also been an increasing problem that wildlife management officials have to contend with throughout North America, Binfet added. The hope is to contain the situation in local areas before it gets out of control because the nearby Black Hills is a popular hunting destination.

A contract between the city council and a new contractor to harvest the deer was approved at a city council meeting last month.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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