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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Disease inflicts game

Rich Landers Outdoors editor

Although there’s still no indication of danger in eating meat from healthy-looking game animals, hunters have become more aware in recent years of diseases affecting big-game animals.

The biggest impact is the reduction of hunting opportunity.

In the 1990s, just as the Hells Canyon bighorns of Idaho, Washington and Oregon were gaining national recognition for producing world-record-class rams, the herds were infected with a form of pneumonia thought to be contracted from domestic sheep.

The bighorns were nearly wiped out, but are recovering with aid from sportsmen’s groups, including about $20 million in research and support pledged by the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep.

White-tailed deer in Eastern Washington and Idaho have had nagging problems in the past six or so years of dry summer conditions with a malady known as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.

The worst documented outbreak occurred last summer, when hundreds of whitetails perished near Kamiah, Orofino and Riggins.

Idaho is conducting research on gnats that spread the disease in the Clearwater River region where last year’s outbreak occurred.

This summer, before the recent rains, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Dave Volsen reported at least 100 deer are known to have been infected with the disease in Spokane County, particularly near Cheney.

The virus, spread by gnats as deer concentrate at water sources in hot, dry conditions, is confined to deer and doesn’t’ affect humans, said Mark Drew, Idaho’s state wildlife veterinarian.

Washington shortened deer seasons in some areas from Spokane south to the Snake River after an outbreak of the disease killed hundreds of whitetails in the summers of 1998 and 1999. Dead deer have been reported again this year, but state officials are not sure how widespread the problem is.

Chronic wasting disease is having an impact on Inland Northwest hunters even though ongoing testing has never documented the disease in wild deer or elk from Idaho or Washington.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission last month adopted restrictions on importation of bone-in deer and elk carcasses or body parts harvested in states where CWD has been documented: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Illinois, South Dakota, Nebraska and the province of Saskatchewan.

The bone-in carcass restriction was prompted by recent research studies in Colorado and Wyoming which showed disease can be spread from the decomposing carcasses of infected animals.

CWD is a disease of the central nervous system in deer and elk that’s related to the “mad cow” disease that affects cattle. To date, there’s been no link between CWD and diseases that affect humans, but wildlife officials throughout the country advise hunters to avoid eating the meat of any animal that shows symptoms of being anything less than 100 percent healthy.

Testing for CWD is being conducted in 47 states, including Washington and Idaho.

At least 16 states and one Canadian province have put restrictions on the importation of hunter-harvested deer and elk. Those states include California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and Washington as well as Manitoba.

Similar bans have at least been discussed in four other states, including Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

At least nine states prohibit the feeding of deer and elk and several other states are discussing a ban on feeding to help prevent the spread of various diseases that can be spread among big-game animals when they are concentrated.