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Wyoming Game And Fish Department Mandates CWD Testing In Certain Deer Hunt Areas For The First Time

A mule deer with antlers stands in the foreground, with two female mule deer in the background, surrounded by snow-covered prairie and sage brush
Tom Koerner
/
USFWS

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a deadly neurological disease that affects deer and elk. This year, to try to learn more about the disease, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is requiring deer hunters in areas 96 and 97 in Sweetwater County to submit their deer for CWD testing. This is the first time testing is being required in any area. Wyoming Public Radio's Ivy Engel sat down with Lander Region Wildlife Management Coordinator Daryl Lutz to learn more.

Daryl Lutz: Well, certainly, we need to know the level of prevalence that we're dealing with in a particular hunt unit so that we can assess whether or not any management prescriptions that we might try in the future would have any impact. Whether or not those prescriptions would be effective or not, will only be determined with adequate data to make those inferences.

Ivy Engel: So why are you requiring CWD testing in only these areas?

DL: We're requiring it because it is a priority, these two areas are priority for CWD collection in the state as identified in our CWD plan. And in a nutshell, samples have just proven to be extremely difficult to get using traditional check stations and field checks. And so it was deemed appropriate to try mandatory testing so that we can achieve an adequate number of CWD samples to assess the level of CWD that we've got in these two hunt areas. And even to see if, because we have a proportionately high buck harvest in this herd unit, whether or not that has any impact on CWD prevalence.

IE: And how long is this requirement in place? Is it just for this year or for the next couple of years?

DL: That's a good question, and I don't know that we know the answer to that. Certainly, we are going to trial the mandatory testing this year. And then I think it would be appropriate for the department to evaluate its effectiveness and see what we want to do, or that we think would be best to do in future years. So we don't know.

IE: Why haven't you required CWD testing in the past?

DL: Well, because we haven't had the authority to do so in the past, and we were hoping that just given our traditional techniques to collect that kind of data would be adequate. But now that we have that tool in our toolbox *, and it proved to be difficult in these particular hunt areas to accomplish an adequate sample, we deemed it worthy of trying here this year.

IE: And so you're just requiring it in these deer hunt areas, is it certain species of deer and why that species of deer versus anything that can carry CWD?

DL: So we are just requiring it in mule deer and white-tailed deer this year, we know that prevalence rates in elk are much lower. So while we're not not concerned about CWD in elk, it's not as grave a concern as it is in deer, so again, in areas 96 and 97, we are requiring it from both mule deer and white-tailed deer.

IE: And how can hunters make sure that they are getting their animal tested and doing the proper thing for that?

DL: So what we're asking is that hunters who don't have the opportunity to encounter either a check station, which we are going to have them set up around both these areas for the duration of the season. If they don't go through a check station or they're not field checked by one of our personnel, that you contact one of our regional offices and we will be more than happy to get those samples taken there as well. The other option too, is hunters can take their own samples. But we just ask that if they do that there is a video available on our website that's very, very well done, and I think outlines the process very well. So hunters can best ensure that they're getting the right tissue for sampling. And that, of course, is very important.

IE: And how are you letting people know that they have to get their animals tested, that it's required?

DL: So what we're gonna do is, and currently working on, all the typical channels through press releases and social media. Both these areas are managed under a general license season construct, and so we don't necessarily know who is going to show up and hunt in areas 96 and or 97, at least with regard to residents. But for those nonresidents who may not necessarily see one of our local newspapers or listen to a local radio station, we are going to be sending them a letter notifying them and again, that's for nonresidents.

IE: The hunting regulations for this year, is this something that would be included in that booklet that it would say, required CWD testing, come get it checked out?

DL: So we highlighted in the regulation booklet, both those hunt areas in orange. So if you look on page seven of the regulation booklet, there's that green box 'Chronic Wasting Disease Info Box.' And at the end of that, it says 'For 2021 hunters are required to submit CWD samples from deer harvested in areas 96 and 97. See page 38.' So then you go to page 38, and that's where you see they're highlighted in orange. And at the very bottom of that column, then you see the orange box with the explanation 'CWD sample submission is mandatory, visit the department's website.'

*According to Lutz, a change in Commission regulations in 2018 gave WGFD the authority to mandate CWD testing.

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