The discovery of chronic wasting disease in deer in North Dakota 10 years ago was an unfortunate milestone. The disease is fatal to deer, elk and moose and can lead to reduced populations if left unchecked.
While there is no treatment, vaccine or feasible way to eliminate CWD, the state Game and Fish Department has implemented regulations over subsequent years that are designed to minimize the spread of the disease within the state.
In addition to carcass transportation restrictions from three different deer gun units where deer have tested positive for CWD, Game and Fish has prohibited hunting big game over bait in those same units, plus some adjacent units.
Chronic wasting disease can be spread directly from animal to animal or indirectly through CWD-contaminated environments. Placing bait, which can include grains, minerals, salts, fruits, vegetables, hay or any other natural or manufactured food, increases how frequently deer come into contact with one another, raising the risk of the disease spreading.
Before 2009, hunting big game over bait was allowed statewide on private land in North Dakota. That started to change after the 2009 discovery of a deer with CWD in hunting unit 3F2 in the southwestern part of the state. In the years since then, Game and Fish has prohibited hunting over bait in 3F2, as well as the surrounding units of 3E1, 3E2, 3F1 and the part of 3C west of the Missouri River.
This past year marked a second unfortunate milestone with the detection of CWD in a new part of the state. A deer harvested in unit 3A1 in the northwestern corner tested positive, followed by another positive test from a deer that was found dead near Williston in February. In response to these events, hunting over bait was prohibited for this fall in deer units 3A1, 3A2, 3B1 and 3A3 north of U.S. Highway 2.
The goal of the baiting restriction is to keep infection rates low in areas that already have CWD. In North Dakota, baiting is defined as the placement of bait to attract big game animals for the purpose of hunting.
For many years, even before the first North Dakota CWD discovery, managing agencies have not allowed hunting over bait on most types of public land in the state. These include state Game and Fish wildlife management areas, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service national wildlife refuges and waterfowl production areas, U.S. Forest Service national grasslands, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed lands and all North Dakota state trust (school), state park and state forest service lands.
Game and Fish managers understand that a ban on baiting will not stop natural congregating of deer that occurs during some portions of the year, but it will decrease the overall risk of CWD spreading within an area by reducing the number, duration and intensity of unnatural congregations. While not a silver bullet, it’s one tool aimed at combating this serious disease.
More information on chronic wasting disease issues is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.
Leier is an outreach biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dl