Golden boy

Mule deer bucks are more prone to catching chronic wasting disease, so they will be among the animals wildlife officials most want to check for signs of the illness.

BISMARCK, N.D. — The discovery of chronic wasting disease in deer in Montana means restrictions for North Dakota residents who hunt deer and elk there.

North Dakota's Game and Fish Department is adding Montana to the list of states from which the movement of deer carcasses into North Dakota is restricted. Montana becomes the 23rd state on North Dakota's list, along with two Canadian provinces and the countries of South Korea and Norway. The goal is to keep the disease from spreading throughout North Dakota.

About 1,400 North Dakota residents hunt deer or elk in Montana each year, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks business analyst Neal Whitney. They can still hunt there, but they must follow numerous rules when bringing back meat, hides and antlers.

For example, antlers must have no meat or tissue attached, hides must have no attached heads, and meat must have no part of the spinal column or head attached. Violations carry a $100 fine.

CWD is a fatal disease that affects the nervous system of members of the deer family. Montana officials have confirmed that a deer killed by a hunter in late October had the disease. A second potential case is undergoing further testing. It's the first time the disease has been detected in Montana wildlife.

It was found in a deer in North Dakota for the first time in 2009. Since then, eight more have tested positive, including two last year. All were in the same hunting unit in the southwestern part of the state, bordering South Dakota, and wildlife officials speculate the cause was an infected deer that wandered across the border.

The fact that CWD hasn't been found in other areas of the state might reflect the effectiveness of the carcass transportation rules, which are fairly standard around the country and based on the best available science, state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.

"There's been a lot of time put into that research," he said. "States like to follow that pretty close, and sportsmen do, too."

Game and Fish has a surveillance program that collects deer heads voluntarily from hunters for CWD testing. The Hunter-Harvested Surveillance Program this year is accepting deer heads from nine central North Dakota hunting units and the southwestern unit where the disease was previously found. Test results are expected sometime in December.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has also added Montana to the list of states and provinces with restrictions on what parts of the game animals can be brought across the state line. 

CWD has not been detected in Washington or Idaho, and officials hope to keep it that way. 

Washington restricts hunters who harvest a deer, elk, or moose in a CWD-positive state — which now includes Montana — from bringing certain tissue and potions of the animal’s head and skeleton into the state.

Only the following items from these animals can be brought into Washington:

• Meat that has been deboned in the state or province where it was harvested and is imported as boned-out meat.

• Skulls and antlers, antlers attached to the skull plate, or upper canine teeth (bugler, whistlers, ivories) from which all soft tissue has been removed.

• Hides or capes without heads attached.

• Tissue imported for use by a diagnostic or research laboratory.

• Finished taxidermy mounts.

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Rich Landers with the The Spokesman-Review contributed to this story.