BISMARCK, N.D. — Follow-up testing indicates that chronic wasting disease isn't widespread in an area of northwestern North Dakota where an emaciated dead deer was discovered in late February — the first in the state known to have died of the disease.
The dead white-tailed deer was found in an area of the state where the devastating disease hadn't previously been detected. The state Game and Fish Department killed and tested 52 deer from that hunting area to gauge the prevalence of CWD and all of the tests were negative, according to agency wildlife veterinarian Charlie Bahnson.
"It was really important to figure out how big of a problem we had on our hands," Bahnson said. "These test results are the best we could have hoped for, given the circumstance. We now know that CWD is there, but infection rates appear to be low."
That's important for hunters because the area is a prime deer habitat and any proliferation of chronic wasting disease in North Dakota could hurt a hunting industry worth tens of millions of dollars to the state, according to state Tourism Division data.
To manage the disease, the state conducts annual testing in infected units and takes other steps, including enacting baiting bans and restrictions on the movement of certain deer carcass parts. Violations carry a $100 fine. Game and Fish will be seeking Gov. Doug Burgum's approval to implement those measures in the hunting unit where the latest CWD case was found, state Wildlife chief Jeb Williams said.
CWD is a fatal disease that strikes the nervous system in deer, elk and moose. No infections have been reported in people, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hunters have animals tested if they're from areas where the disease is present and not eat meat from infected animals.
Fourteen deer killed by hunters in North Dakota have tested positive since 2009, including 13 that were killed in a south-central hunting unit and one that was killed last fall in the state's northwestern corner. The deer that died of the disease was found south of Williston in February, though it's likely others died of the illness but just weren't found, according to Bahnson.
Game and Fish restricts the movement of certain deer parts from nearly two dozen other states where CWD is present. The list includes the neighboring states of South Dakota, Montana and Minnesota and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan to the north. The state also has a surveillance program that collects deer heads voluntarily from hunters for testing. One-third of the state is tested every year. Hunting units where CWD has been documented are tested every year. The unit south of Williston will now be tested annually, Williams said.