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Wildlife Managers Have New Tools to Contain Chronic Wasting Disease

As of February 2020, chronic wasting disease has been identified in 31 of 37 (84%) Wyoming mule deer herds, and 9 of 36 (25%) elk herds in Wyoming.

Wildlife managers in Wyoming are moving forward to combat chronic wasting disease in deer, elk, and moose herds, after the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved a new statewide management plan.

"Really, this plan was intended to provide a list of different options that wildlife managers out on the ground could use to apply to management to meet objectives in those herds scattered all around the state," said Brian Nesvik.

State Game and Fish Department director Brian Nesvik said managers can pick and choose from new tools in their toolkits, because herds in different areas face unique challenges. Some areas might see expanded hunting harvests, for example, to cull infected animals.

In other areas controversial winter feedlots, viewed as hot spots for the infectious disease, could be limited. The Wyoming Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan is the result of a year-long process led by Game and Fish and a diverse working group of more than 30 stakeholders including scientists, private land owners, ranchers and hunters. The group also received hundreds of written comments and in-person feedback from the public at workshops held across the state.

Joshua Coursey with the Muley Fanatic Foundation said 31 of the 37 mule deer herds currently under state management have tested positive for the disease. He said while there currently is no silver bullet, the management plan is a good first step toward containing outbreaks.

"But what is known is clearly chronic wasting disease can have a significant impact to where it will eventually when given enough time, change the population and the dynamics within a herd," said Coursey.

Nesvik called the plan a living document that can be adjusted and changed as managers learn more in the field, and he said the public will continue to have opportunities to weigh in.

"This plan, now that it is approved, does not become frozen in time. And our intent is that we learn more about the disease, and we learn more about how it affects Wyoming, that we will continue to adapt the plan and make it better," said Nesvik.