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Deer found dead near Williston tests positive for chronic wasting disease

This emaciated deer in Iowa County, Wis., was later confirmed to have chronic wasting disease. A whitetail found dead in February near Williston has been confirmed to have CWD, the first documented case of mortality due to the disease in North Dakota. Most animals that carry the disease look healthy; it's only in the final stages whn they become sickly looking. (Photo/ Wisconsin DNR)

A white-tailed deer found dead just south of Williston in late February has been confirmed as testing positive for chronic wasting disease, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said Tuesday.

"This is unfortunate news because it means CWD is much farther south than the positive deer harvested this past fall in the northwest corner of deer unit 3A1 in Divide County," said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, wildlife veterinarian for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

CWD is a fatal disease of deer, moose and elk that can cause long-term population declines if left unchecked. Since 2009, 14 other deer have tested positive for CWD in North Dakota — 13 from Grant and Sioux counties in hunting unit 3F2 in the southwest, and the other taken last fall from the northwest in Divide County.

The deer found near Williston is the first documented case of a mortality due to CWD in North Dakota.

"All 14 previous detections were perfectly healthy-looking deer that were hunter-harvested before they got sick," Bahnson said. "This deer was severely emaciated and had an empty digestive tract, which is unusual even in starvation cases that can occur in harder winters like this one. This deer stopped trying to forage some time ago."

Bahnson said the deer probably was not the first to die of CWD in North Dakota, especially since the disease has been documented in 3F2 for a decade. "But this animal happened to die in an area where it was highly visible, and the carcass could be recovered in time for testing," he said.

The Game and Fish Department will collect additional samples for testing through targeted removal over the next week or so. In addition to the targeted removal and testing, Game and Fish will review the need to amend the current CWD proclamation to reflect the new CWD positive.

"In other areas of the country where CWD has reached a tipping point, finding sick or dead CWD-infected deer has become common," Bahnson said. "We need to do everything in our power to ensure that doesn't happen in North Dakota."

More information about CWD and regulations regarding CWD are available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998.  A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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