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Fish, Wildlife and Parks' technicians Jessica Goosmann, left, and Sean Flynn cut lymph nodes from the head of a mule deer doe harvested during Montana's first chronic wasting disease hunt, which started on Dec. 15.

BRETT FRENCH, Gazette Staff

As Montana wildlife officials consider a second special hunt for deer suspected of carrying chronic wasting disease, Sen. Jon Tester has asked Congress to send some help.

The fatal neurological disease appeared in some deer shot during the 2017 big game season. In south-central Montana’s Fish, Wildlife & Parks Region 3, four mule deer bucks, one mule deer doe and one whitetail doe have tested positive for the disease. Another mule deer buck tested positive in FWP Region 4 near the Canadian border.

Tester, D-Montana introduced the “Chronic Wasting Disease Support for States Act” on Tuesday. It would authorize $60 million to help state and tribal wildlife management agencies stop the spread of the disease through research grants, management plans and rapid-response units in newly infected areas.

The bill would be the Senate companion of Rep. Ron Kind’s Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act, which the Wisconsin Democrat introduced to the House of Representatives on Nov. 17.

“Of the challenges our wildlife populations face today, chronic wasting disease is one of the most urgent,” National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara said in an email statement. “The contagious, always-fatal neurological disease has now been found in elk, deer and moose herds from the northern Rockies to the Midwest to the Northeast.”

In early December, FWP authorized a special hunt to gather deer samples in south-central Montana’s Carbon County. The 1,200 deer-B hunting licenses released on Dec. 11 sold out in three hours. The special season lasts until 200 whitetail and 200 mule deer specimens are collected or Feb. 15, 2018.

The state Fish and Wildlife Commission meets Thursday to consider a similar special hunt for mule deer north of Chester. That hunt would offer 335 B tags; 60 either-sex and 275 antlerless permits. It would end with the harvest of 135 mule deer or by Feb. 15. The public can listen in on the conference call with the Fish and Wildlife Commission at 1 p.m. Dec. 21. Audio of the call will be available at regional offices, FWP headquarters in Helena and online at fwp.mt.gov.

All deer killed in CWD special hunts must be submitted to FWP biologists for sampling. CWD is a progressive, fatal neurological disease that effects deer, elk and moose. It is not known to infect humans, but has no known cure for animals.

The Center’s for Disease Control recommends not consuming animals that test positive for CWD. The CDC also recommends getting deer, elk or moose from CWD-positive areas tested prior to consumption.

In Wyoming, Chronic Wasting Disease has led to a 21 percent annual decline in the mule deer population and a 10 percent decline in the white-tail deer population, according to Tester’s staff. Before the recent infection of Montana deer, Montana was CWD- free for nearly 20 years. At least 22 other states and two Canadian provinces have reported CWD in their wildlife populations.

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