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Idaho Fish and Game considers hunting season changes due to chronic wasting disease

An Idaho Fish and Game employee holds a deer head on a table as they prepare to take samples to detect for chronic wasting disease.
Roger Phillips
Idaho Fish and Game
Fish and Game staff take samples from deer for chronic wasting disease testing.

Idaho Fish and Game is considering changes to deer and elk hunting seasons this year to control the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD).

Wildlife officials have found six cases of CWD in deer and elk in north-central Idaho since it was first detected in the state last fall. Then, Fish and Game opened emergency hunts in the area and collected more than 500 samples from deer and about 60 from elk. From that they found three more cases in deer and one in an elk.

Based on the data collected, managers believe fewer than two percent of those animals are infected and that the disease is confined to management unit 14 between Riggins and Grangeville, where the initial positives were found. And they want to keep it that way.

Research from other states shows when the prevalence rate exceeds five percent, the disease can spread more rapidly, according to Fish and Game.

“Leaving CWD unchecked and allowing it to increase and spread unabated to other units and other deer and elk populations threatens the viability of those populations," said State Game Manager Rick Ward during an information session about proposed hunt changes this week.

The proposals are limited to unit 14 and include increasing hunting opportunities for mule and white-tailed deer and slightly boosting the number of elk tags.

The goal is to reduce the overall density of deer in the unit and to end up with a younger population of deer, in part because the older animals tend to wander farther and could contribute to spreading CWD to other units. The department also wants to increase surveillance testing.

Ward said he’s spent the last two decades trying to grow deer and elk populations.

“The idea of going in and implementing some measures to reduce deer numbers and reduce mature bucks — that’s a hard pill to swallow," he said. "No one wins with CWD."

The public comment period on the changes ends March 13 and commissioners will vote on them at a meeting later this month.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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