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Idaho logs more cases of chronic wasting disease after special hunt

A doe standing in an area with snow-covered trees.
Richard Carter
Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho Fish and Game says new test results in central Idaho show chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in elk and a second species of deer.

About 550 animals harvested during a special hunt in units 14 and 15, north-northeast of Riggins, led to four new cases of the always-fatal neurodegenerative disease spread among deer, elk, moose and caribou.

It’s never been shown to impact humans, but consuming meat from infected animals is strongly discouraged. Most of the now six total positive cases in Idaho have been found in the Slate Creek area, about halfway between Riggins and White Bird.

Chronic wasting disease isn’t treatable, but since it emerged in the late 1960s, 26 other states have managed its spread with surveillance and testing. Those methods rely on carcass testing; a new hurdle for hunters in this state after they fill a tag.

Idaho has tested more than 20,000 animals for CWD since 1997, but outfitters in central Idaho say before the disease was confirmed here, hunters rarely – if ever – got a harvested animal tested. Idaho Fish and Game reported more than 2,500 tests in 2021 alone.

"They've found cases of CWD all along the Idaho border for years, so I don't think this is a new thing," said Brad Walters, co-owner of Hells Canyon Outfitters in Riggins. "It's hard to find something if you're not looking for it."

The presence of the disease hasn't impacted his business or other outfitters in the area. Walters said hunters are mostly concerned with what a 'new normal' of post-hunt requirements might be.

"What it's going to look like with tags dropping, or what the process is going to be for getting animals tested once they’re harvested," he said. "I think that’s more of the concern right now."

Rick Koesel runs Silver Spur Outfitters in Dixie. He's expecting some changes to the way trophies from affected areas might need to be handled because the head and spine are what are needed for testing.

In Colorado, where CWD was first detected, testing in many areas is mandatory. Trophy mounting remains available, and hunters may qualify for refunds if a harvested animal tests positive.

Later this month, the State Fish and Game Commission will review the results of the surveillance hunt and determine what – if any – mitigation measures are needed.