A second white-tailed deer with chronic wasting disease in urban Libby has state wildlife officials scrambling for clues to the spread of the degenerative fatal disease.
Most other reported CWD incidents have been in northeastern Montana near former Alberta and Saskatchewan commercial game farms, and in the Carbon County area near Billings. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Dillon Tabish said the Libby incidents were unusual because both involved deer roaming inside the Libby city limits. The first case was a doe that died in late May. The second sick buck was reported just four blocks away from the first incident on June 14.
“We hadn’t had any positive cases west of the Continental Divide,” Tabish said on Friday. “Libby does have an urban deer problem, and we’ve had people feeding deer in Libby. They have several hundred deer in the city.”
FWP biologists will be sampling deer in and around town, creating an Initial Response Area with a roughly 10-mile radius from the first collection sites. As there are no reliable tests for live animals, the FWP workers will be sampling deer killed by agency staff as well as hunter-harvested deer, elk and moose. They will also collect samples from road-killed wildlife.
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CWD is a progressive, fatal disease that slowly destroys the nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose. It’s passed by virus-like prions that can be carried in an infected animal’s saliva or body tissue secretions. The prions can also contaminate the soil where an infected animal carcass has laid. Hunters are advised to dump their carcasses in a proper landfill instead of leaving them in the field to avoid further transmission.
The disease has not shown the capability to spread to humans or pets and other livestock. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends hunters harvesting a deer, elk, or moose from an area where CWD is known to be present have their animal tested for CWD prior to consuming the meat, and to not consume the meat if the animal tests positive.