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Sports >  Outdoors

Idaho Fish and Game creates chronic wasting disease management zone

An Idaho Fish and Game employee logs a lymph node sample returned by a hunter in this undated photo.  (Sara Cassinelli/Idaho Fish and Game)
An Idaho Fish and Game employee logs a lymph node sample returned by a hunter in this undated photo. (Sara Cassinelli/Idaho Fish and Game)
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – Idaho Fish and Game commissioners designated a chronic wasting disease management zone Monday and gave Idaho Fish and Game Director Ed Schriever authority to establish emergency hunts to help monitor for the disease.

Two deer taken last month near Lucile in Game Management Unit 14 tested positive for the fatal and contagious disease that had not previously been documented in Idaho but poses a threat to wild deer and elk herds. It is in the same family as mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and carries potential health concerns for hunters. It has never been documented to infect humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people not eat meat from animals with the disease.

The commission approved a recommendation from the department to establish a CWD management zone in units 14 and 15. Rules prevent hunters from removing carcasses containing brain or spinal tissue of deer, elk and moose taken in the zone.

Commissioners also gave Schriever authority to establish special “surveillance hunts” in larger area that includes all of units 14, 15, and parts of 11A, 13, 18 and 23. Schriever said the department is still working to determine the parameters of the hunts, including the number and geographic distribution of tags that will be reserved for resident hunters and sold at a discounted rate.

“There is a threshold number,” Schriever said. “We need a minimum number of samples to have the statistical certainty that we are going to see (the disease) if it is there.”

The hunts are designed to help the agency map the prevalence of the disease and its geographic scope. They are not intended to contain the disease but the commission could authorize hunts designed to do that in the future.

“That will be the commission’s decision and it will be informed by the data we are collecting now,” Schriever said.

The surveillance hunts will target the taking of up to 1,000 deer with a mix of whitetails and mule and a mix of both does and bucks. Wildlife Bureau Chief Toby Boudreau no more animals will be taken than necessary and the number of tags and permits to be issued will be determined once the agency has a good count of the number of valid samples already submitted from the area.

The Idaho Department of Agriculture is communicating with the operators of a domestic elk farm near Riggins. State Department of Agriculture Veterinarian Scott Leibsle said CWD has not previously been detected there or at any other domestic cervid operation in the state.

“They have been fully compliant with all the rules and regulations,” he said.

The Fish and Game department has authority to test for and manage CWD in wild deer, elk and moose herds while the Agriculture Department has authority to oversee disease testing at commercial elk and reindeer farms. The farms are a potential vector for the disease because they often import and export animals.

Idaho requires that no less than 10% of animals harvested at such operations be tested for CWD and 100% of animals that die of other causes to be tested. It also requires domestic elk ranches to be inspected every five years.

Leibsle said the ranch is not due for an inspection, in which the agency insures fences are sufficient to contain the domestic animals and keep wild animals out, but the operator has agreed to undergo one in the interest of “best management practices.” Domestic elk ranchers are also required to submit an end-of-year inventory of animals.

Eric Crawford, a former Fish and Game conservation officer who works at Trout Unlimited, said the state’s regulation of domestic elk and reindeer farms is too friendly. Crawford observed Monday’s commission meeting.

“There is no good regulation of domestic cervids,” Crawford said. “Sportsmen need to recognize they need to be engaged in this issue. The state has done everything it can to keep CWD management of domestic herds in the Department of Agriculture.”

The Idaho Wildlife Federation is advocating for stricter testing and fencing regulations at domestic cervid operations.

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