First Elk Tests Positive For CWD In Northwest Wyoming

Dec 18, 2020

Credit Joe Riis

An elk has tested positive for chronic wasting disease in Grand Teton National Park.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a neurological disease that is deadly to deer, elk and moose. It has been identified in moose and deer in northwest Wyoming but this is the first elk in the area to have it.

The area is contentious because it is home to the 22 state controlled elk feedgrounds and the National Elk Refuge in Jackson. Disease spreads quicker when animals congregate. Wyoming Game and Fish has just started a process to developing an elk feedground plan.

Sy Gilliland, president of Wyoming Guides and Outfitters Association, said there's an elk herd that has the disease and is doing fine.

"Those elk in the Laramie Peak area, they've had CWD for 20 years. And their infection rate still is only three to seven percent," said Gilliland. "And they winter in large herds. And so they winter in herds that mimic the same thing that we see in elk feed grounds, and they still have that low of an infection rate."

But environmental groups like Sierra Club believe that the unnatural gathering of elk could spread the disease like wildfire.

"The impacts of this always-fatal disease when it starts rapidly spreading through elk herds on winter feedlots will devastate the entire Greater Yellowstone ecosystem," said Connie Wilbert, the Wyoming Chapter director of Sierra Club. "Harming the biological integrity of Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks and the entire surrounding multi-state region. There is no time to waste: we need to start phasing out elk feedlots now, before a chronic wasting disease epidemic decimates wildlife in northwestern Wyoming and the entire region."

"Wildlife managers say that while the positive test in an elk raises concern," reads a Grand Teton National Park press release. "The positive test result does not come as a surprise based on the steady progression of the disease westward across the state and the positive result for a mule deer in Grand Teton National Park in the fall of 2018. A mule deer also tested positive for CWD in Star Valley in 2016, the Pinedale area in 2017, and two mule deer in the Wyoming Range in 2020."