Idaho Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Blanco has a favorite subject of late, but it’s one that troubles him.
Attend a meeting where the commissioner is present and you are likely to hear a few minutes of discussion about chronic wasting disease, also known as CWD.
Idaho’s deer, elk and moose populations are free of the disease, but it’s slowly marching westward. The disease has been present in Wyoming for years and this fall it was found in Montana for the first time.
“The likelihood is very high that sooner or later that CWD will infect our herds in Idaho,” he said Wednesday during a phone interview. “Having said that, I think what we need to do is try to stave off that day as long as possible and once it does enter the state, do everything we can do to contain it.”
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is in the midst of updating its CWD response plan. Toby Boudreau, assistant chief of the agency’s Wildlife Bureau at Boise, said the state has done random sampling for CWD the past two decades. He agrees it’s probably only a matter of time before the state gets a positive test. When that happens, officials want to be ready. The response plan consists not only of a testing protocol, but also is designed to give the agency a number of different options, or tools, to use in an attempt to contain any outbreak.
Many states without CWD in their herds, including Washington, prohibit the importation of deer and elk carcasses from states that have tested positive. Some require all wild game meat brought in by hunters from CWD hot states to be deboned before it crosses state lines. Others merely forbid the importation of spinal columns or heads, where the proteins, or prions, that play a role in transmitting the disease reside. Blanco calls the prions zombie proteins.
“You can’t kill them because they are not really alive,” he often says.
Idaho doesn’t have a carcass importation ban, but Boudreau said adopting one could be a recommendation that emerges from the update process. He said a ban and many other potential tools would have to be implemented by the commission.
“Our response plan is going to be adaptive in nature and describe all the tools that are possible. Some of those things involve developing regulations proposals—things the commission will be integrally involved in, like a carcass transport rule.”
That is something Blanco is advocating.
“If it walks across the border of Idaho from Wyoming in a living animal that is infected, that is one thing, and you can really concentrate on the border areas and try to contain it,” he said. “If you have carcasses coming in and being buried in back pastures all over the state, you are conceivably spreading it throughout the state instead of just a single border area.”
Blanco also wants the agency to look at other ways the disease may be brought to Idaho. Some hunters use commercially available deer urine to mask their own scent and to use it attract bucks during the rut. Blanco said there is evidence the prions can be present in urine.
“I think we need to look hard at, as other states have, at the whole question of whether or not the prions—the proteins that pass the disease—if these proteins are present in deer urine and if it proves deer urine is a threat, we may want to look at what other states have done to restrict deer urine,” he said.
Boudreau said the process to update the response plan is likely to be finished by February or March.