Leaders Need Public Support to Track CWD

Leaders Need Public Support to Track CWD

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is nearly impossible to kill in the deer that are affected by it. But government agencies in some regions of North America are fighting a battle of public perception in their very ability to track the disease. “It’s been accepted that eradication is difficult, if not impossible,” said Katherine Mehl, an ecologist with the fish and wildlife branch of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. Mehl is responsible for a CWD program that no longer exists. The government of Saskatchewan stopped their surveillance program in the fall of 2013 due in large part to a lack of participation from Saskatchewan hunters, who were asked to turn in deer heads for sampling and testing. “The sample sizes were declining. Overall it started off with quite a few samples,” she said. CWD is sometimes referred to as a prion disease, which would put it in the same category as the mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and scrapie. Prion diseases act more like infectious proteins than other disease transmitters like viruses, fungi or bacteria. Prions mostly affect the brain and are almost always fatal in mammals. The disease is currently known to affect members of the deer family like elk (Cervus canadensis), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), moose (Alces alces) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Mehl said that the program she worked on also attempted to reduce the spread of infection by reducing concentrations of wild deer. They offered more hunting licenses under certain conditions and in certain areas where the disease was known to be prevalent on the conditions that hunters sent them deer heads to test for...