LEWISTON — The Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners on Monday designated a chronic wasting disease management area and gave Idaho Director of Fish and Game Ed Schriever authority to establish emergency hunts to help monitor the disease.
Two deer captured last month near Lucile in Game Management Unit 14 tested positive for the deadly, contagious disease that had not previously been documented in Idaho but poses a threat to deer herds and wild elk. It belongs to the same family as mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and presents potential health issues for hunters. It has never been documented to infect humans, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend people not eat meat from animals with the disease.
The commission approved a department recommendation to establish a chronic wasting disease management area in Units 14 and 15. The rules prohibit hunters from removing carcasses containing deer brain or spinal tissue, elk and moose captured in the area.
The commissioners also gave Schriever authority to establish special “surveillance hunts” in a larger area including all of Units 14, 15 and parts of 11A, 13, 18 and 23. Schriever said the department was working again to determine the parameters of the hunts, including the number and geographical distribution of tags that will be reserved for resident hunters and sold at a reduced price.
“There is a threshold number,” Schriever said. “We need a minimum number of samples to have statistical certainty that we will see (the disease) if it is there.”
The hunts are designed to help the agency map the prevalence of the disease and its geographic extent. They are not intended to contain the disease, but the commission may authorize hunts intended to do so in the future.
“That will be the commission’s decision and it will be informed by the data we are currently collecting,” Schriever said.
Surveillance hunts will aim to capture up to 1,000 deer with a mix of whitetail deer and mules and a mix of does and bucks. Wildlife Office Chief Toby Boudreau will only take more animals 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 in the region.
The Idaho Department of Agriculture is contacting operators of a domestic elk farm near Riggins. State Department of Agriculture veterinarian Scott Leibsle said CWD has never been detected there or on any other domestic deer operations in the state.
“They fully complied with all rules and regulations,” he said.
The Fish and Game Department has authority to test and manage chronic wasting disease in herds of wild deer, elk and moose, while the Agriculture Department has authority to oversee testing for diseases on commercial elk and reindeer farms. Farms are a potential vector of the disease because they often import and export animals.
Idaho requires that at least 10% of animals harvested from such operations be tested for CWD and that 100% of animals that die of other causes be tested. It also requires domestic elk ranches to be inspected every five years.
Leibsle said the ranch was not due for an inspection, in which the agency ensures fencing is sufficient to contain pets and keep wildlife out, but the operator has agreed to undergo one in the interest of “best management practices”. Domestic elk producers are also required to submit a year-end animal inventory.
Eric Crawford, a former fish and game conservation officer who works at Trout Unlimited, said state regulations on domestic elk and reindeer farms are too friendly. Crawford observed Monday’s commission meeting.
“There is no good regulation of domestic cervids,” Crawford said. “Athletes need to recognize that they need to be involved in this issue. The state has done everything it can to keep CWD’s management of domestic herds within the Department of Agriculture.”
The Idaho Wildlife Federation is advocating for stricter testing and fencing regulations on domestic deer operations.