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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington plans special drawing for hunters who have elk, deer tested for chronic wasting disease

A mature mule deer buck wearing a winter coat of fur sits quietly in the drizzling rain near the Centennial Trail near the T.J. Meenach Bridge on Jan. 28, 2020.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)

Hunters who have their deer or elk tested for chronic wasting disease this season will have an extra chance at drawing a multiseason deer tag next year.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced Friday that it’s working with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to organize a special drawing for multiseason deer tags for 2024 that will be available to hunters who have their animals tested for chronic wasting disease.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers helped pay for 100 multiseason tags, which allow hunters to take part in the archery, muzzleloader and modern firearm seasons. Hunters who submit samples from elk or deer killed this year will be entered into the drawing.

The April drawing won’t affect a hunter’s chances at the general multiseason drawing, and instead represent an additional opportunity for those hunters to pull a tag.

It’s an incentive program meant to boost sample numbers for the always-fatal brain disease, which affects elk, deer, moose and caribou. The disease hasn’t been detected in Washington but has been found in 31 states, including Idaho, and four Canadian provinces.

States that have found the disease have seen significant impacts to their elk and deer populations. They’ve also organized special hunts to depopulate infected herds and gauge the scope of the outbreak.

Josh Wilund, secretary of Washington’s Backcountry Hunters and Anglers chapter, said in the news release that it’s important for people to stay vigilant about the disease.

“An outbreak could severely impact our cervid populations, in turn impacting ecosystem health and resilience, economies that rely on hunting revenue, and hunting opportunities,” Wilund said.

Mutated proteins called prions cause the disease. Prions are passed between animals through bodily fluids, and they can persist in the environment for a long time.

The disease moves slowly and infected animals often don’t show symptoms until the end stages.

Melia DeVivo, a WDFW ungulate research scientist, said in the release that they want to find it before it’s infected a large number of the state’s deer or elk.

“Early detection will help us better manage the spread of CWD, so we highly encourage hunters to test their deer and elk,” DeVivo said.

WDFW started limited testing for the illness in 1995. A statewide surveillance program ran from 2001 to 2011. After that, the state focused on testing animals showing signs of the disease.

In 2021, the Washington Legislature funded a WDFW program to test more deer and elk in the eastern part of the state after the disease was detected closer to the border.

Over the past two years, WDFW has tested around 1,100 animals. That’s a fraction of the overall deer and elk harvest in the state, which is why WDFW is interested in encouraging more hunters to submit samples.

Biologists test lymph nodes from dead deer or elk to look for the disease, meaning they can only take samples from animals killed by hunters or salvaged roadkill. It’s the only way scientists can look for the disease.

The disease has not been shown to infect humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend against eating meat from infected animals.

Hunters are able to submit samples by visiting the WDFW headquarters or the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. Those who want to submit samples that way must make an appointment to do so.

Hunters can also self-submit their samples by dropping off the head of a deer or elk at a self-service kiosk or by pulling out the lymph nodes and mailing them in.

Instructions for submitting samples are available at WDFW’s Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Program website.

The early archery season for deer opened in many areas on Friday.

Additional hunting seasons will open later this month.