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Two biggest concerns for the future of North Dakota outdoors were really not even on the radar in North Dakota less than 20 years ago. While we’ve known about chronic wasting disease and zebra mussels, it wasn't until the past 10 years they were documented in North Dakota.

CWD is a fatal disease of deer, moose and elk that can cause long-term population declines if left unchecked. Since 2009, 14 CWD-positive deer have been found in North Dakota, and all previous cases were from within hunting unit 3F2, which includes parts of Sioux, Grant, Morton, Hettinger and Adams counties in southwestern North Dakota.

Three deer taken during the 2018 North Dakota deer gun season were confirmed positive for chronic wasting disease, according to Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. While two of the positive deer were taken in unit 3F2, an area of North Dakota known to have CWD, the third was taken from Divide County in deer unit 3A1, previously considered free of CWD.

“Unfortunately, the positive deer in Divide County doesn’t come as a big surprise, since CWD was found in Saskatchewan just a few miles north of Portal, N.D., last spring,” Bahnson said. “Our focus needs to now shift to taking measures to limit the spread of CWD within Divide County and to reduce the chances of it being introduced to new parts of the state."

Experience has shown that you can still have good hunting opportunities after CWD is discovered in an area, according to Bahnson.

“Over the last several years, we have found it in less than 1 percent of the deer tested from 3F2,” Bahnson added. “That’s a number that we can live with, but if that number starts to climb, there will be real impacts to our deer herd.”

Special regulations previously put in place in 3F2 have included prohibiting hunting deer over bait.

“There is no treatment or vaccine for CWD and, once it’s in an area, it’s there indefinitely,” Bahnson said. “The very few options that we have available are aimed at reducing the number, duration and intensity of unnatural congregations of deer — that is a major risk factor for spreading any contagious disease.”

Additional regulations in 3F2 include transportation restrictions to reduce the likelihood of infected carcass parts being moved to new areas of the state and serving as a source of CWD.

The department will consider implementing similar regulations in response to the CWD detection in Divide County in the coming months.

“CWD is the most serious disease threat to the future of big-game hunting in North Dakota,” Bahnson said. “We owe it to our children and our grandchildren to do everything we can to combat it.”

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Doug Leier is a biologist with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

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