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North Dakota had its first confirmed case of chronic wasting disease in deer detected in 2009.

Since then, CWD has become a familiar term to most North Dakota deer hunters, even though the total number of confirmed cases is still less than a dozen, and all of them are from the same unit — 3F2 — in the southwestern part of the state.

This is a good sign because CWD has not yet spread throughout the state, and it’s also an indicator that some new regulations put in place since that first discovery have been working. As such, it is still possible to limit the impact of CWD and prevent its spread to new portions of the state.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department recently updated the information on its website to highlight some new regulations and the ongoing efforts to keep this disease in check. Here’s some information about CWD, including excerpts from the website at

What is CWD?

CWD is a disease of deer, moose and elk that is always fatal. It can lead to a decline in deer populations if left unchecked, and once on a landscape, it remains indefinitely. CWD is caused by a prion and results in the formation of microscopic, sponge-like holes in the animal’s brain. It is not caused by a virus, bacteria or nutritional imbalance. There is no treatment or vaccine.

Early detection

Early detection of CWD is a key to managing its spread. North Dakota Game and Fish conducts widespread surveillance across one third of the state each year. In 2018, the Hunter-Harvested Surveillance Program will focus on the western third of the state. Hunters are encouraged to drop off deer heads from animals harvested in these units at collection sites located across this region.

In addition, staffed sampling stations will be open in Kenmare and Crosby, for the first three days of deer gun season. Hunters can voluntarily bring their deer to these stations to be sampled. These stations are new this year and designed to increase sampling efforts in the northwestern part of the state, as a deer with CWD was detected last year in Canada not far from the North Dakota border.

What else can hunters do?

•  Dispose of carcasses appropriately, regardless of where the animal was harvested and if it has been tested. CWD remains in the soil and can be taken up by plants. Scavengers that feed on the carcass can spread CWD through their scat. The best way to dispose of a carcass is by taking it to a landfill.

• Animal-to-animal contact is the main way a disease is spread in a herd. Practices that lead to deer unnaturally congregating or frequenting the same place put the entire herd at risk. You can reduce this risk by avoiding the practices of baiting and feeding.

•  Report sick and dead deer to the Game and Fish Department.

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Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department. His blog is at