BISMARCK – Beginning in the fall of 2023, big game hunters in North Dakota will see some changes in regulations and procedures aimed at mitigating the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, the deadly brain disease in deer, elk and moose.
Among the highlights of the Hunting and Fishing Department
are new regulations governing the transport of big game carcasses in the state and a change in how often the department samples hunting units for CWD, said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for game and fish at Bismarck.
The department’s existing CWD management plan dates back to the early 2000s, before CWD was discovered in the state, Bahnson said. The disease was first detected in 2009 in Unit 3F2 in southwestern North Dakota.
“We tried to follow the science and follow the disease as it was discovered in the state, but 20 years later it was time to take a more comprehensive look,” Bahnson said.
Game and Fish presented the new 2023-2027 chronic wasting disease management plan at recent meetings in Fargo, Dickinson and Minot, which each drew about 30 to 40 people, Bahnson said. A task force comprised of Game and Fish staff from various sections of the department developed the new plan, Bahnson said, based on chronic wasting disease management plans from other states and best practices described. by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and others.
North Dakota now has 70 confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease, all in wild deer, and a high percentage of those positive cases have occurred in the past decade. Most units positive for MDC are in the western part of the state, although Hunting Unit 2B in the Red River Valley between Grand Forks and south of Fargo is now listed as a surveillance unit of MDC after a single white-tailed deer tested positive for the disease. last fall near Climax on the Minnesota side of the river.
Game and Fish is setting up a chronic wasting disease surveillance unit within a 25-mile radius of any positive case, even if it is in a neighboring state or province.
Perhaps the biggest change in the new management plan relates to the transportation of whole carcasses or high-risk body parts such as brains and spines from big game caught in CWD-positive areas of North Dakota. . Under the plan, hunters starting in 2023 will be able to transport whole carcasses and high-risk body parts anywhere in the state, even if the animal was taken to an area known to have CWD.
The prions that cause CWD are most abundant in the brain and spine and persist in the landscape indefinitely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a prion is an “abnormal pathogen” that causes an abnormal folding of otherwise healthy brain proteins, resulting in brain damage and wasting of infected animals.
prohibit the movement of whole carcasses or high-risk body parts of CWD-infected hunting units anywhere in the state, except between adjacent CWD-infected units.
“It made a lot of sense in the beginning when we had the disease in a particular unit, but as we have continued to add (CWD-positive) units over the past few years, the value of this restriction has kind of diminished,” said Bahnson. “Moving forward, you have two options to manage this risk: one is to try to keep things where they are and the second is to try to influence what happens to them in the background.”
By adopting the second option, Bahnson says, the new regulations will require hunters to dispose of high-risk carcasses and body parts at a landfill or through a waste hauler.
“The best options you have going forward are either to leave these things at the harvesting location – which is fine, it doesn’t spread disease – or to make sure they end up in the landfill afterwards. having them transported to where you plan to move it,” Bahnson said. “That’s a pretty significant change, and it applies to any animal harvested in the state.”
The change only applies to big game caught in North Dakota, Bahnson says. Hunters importing big game from other states must continue to transport either quarters or boneless meat.
“For example, if you harvest an elk in Montana, you would still have to go through the same processes as before,” he said.
Also available from 2023, the department will sample hunting units less frequently but more thoroughly, Bahnson said. Currently, the department tries to sample about a third of the state each year, an approach it describes as “one mile wide and one inch deep.”
Instead, the department will divide the state into fifths and sample hunting units every five years.
“Once a unit appears every five years, we will set a monitoring goal and continue testing and obtaining samples until we reach that goal,” Bahnson said.
Hunters can also request
by Game and Fish.
Despite the controversy surrounding the practice of deer baiting, the new plan will allow hunters to continue baiting on private land in units where chronic wasting disease has not been detected, Bahnson says.
“The topic of baiting generates a lot of heated discussion,” Bahnson said. “In the end, we decided within the working group that this compromise was the best way forward. We have a lot of people who want us to go statewide (with a ban on baiting) and a lot of people who don’t like it being restricted in any way.
“We’re trying to balance the known disease risk with the fact that some people really like to bait.”
Other aspects of the new plan include issuing more tags to increase harvest pressure in areas where chronic wasting disease prevalence reaches 5%. If a unit hits 10% prevalence, “that’s when we’ll really start looking at other out-of-the-box options,” Bahnson said, such as establishing management subunits. in parts of a particular hunting unit where CWD infections are particularly high. .
Currently, unit 3F2 has a prevalence of 4.9% in mule deer and “a bit lower” in white-tailed deer, Bahnson says, while unit 3A1 in far northwest State last year had a prevalence of 6.9% in mule deer.
The new CWD plan will allow the department to adjust regulations and policies as needed, Bahnson said.
“We really wrote this with the idea that it’s adaptive in nature,” he said. “We have a general plan for how we would like to proceed over the next five years, but as new information comes in, as new information comes in from the science, we will definitely incorporate that into the way we work. in the future.”