CWD-afflicted whitetail deer

This photo of CWD-afflicted whitetail deer near death was on the cover of an earlier Montana CWD Management plan.

It took 2 hours and 13 minutes for the 600 hunting licenses to sell out Monday for the special chronic wasting disease hunt near Libby.

Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the antlerless white-tailed deer B licenses went on sale at 8 a.m. at about a dozen locations in northwest Montana. Two hours later, when the licenses were made available online and at retailers across the Treasure State, only about 60 remained. Those sold out by 10:13 a.m.

Dillon Tabish, a spokesperson for FWP, said the multiple sales went off without a glitch. Most people purchased the two licenses they were allowed to buy for personal use, then also bought two licenses for family members for the special antlerless hunt.

“We were prepared for it. There’s probably a lot of people who wish we had more licenses,” Tabish said. 

The 600 licenses were purchased by 316 Montana residents, and a person from Florida and one from Alaska. Of those, 562 licenses were bought by hunters who purchased two or more, while 38 only purchased one.

The bulk of the purchases — 391 — were at three stores in Libby. Eighty-six licenses were sold in Troy, 63 sold in Kalispell, 24 sold in Eureka and four sold in Trout Creek. The remaining licenses included 30 sold in Helena and two in Great Falls. 

The B licenses cost $10 each for a resident and $75 for non-residents. They’re eligible for use only inside the new Libby CWD management zone, which encompasses about a 10-mile radius around Libby, including parts of Hunting Districts 100, 103 and 104.

The licenses are eligible only during the regular archery and general hunting seasons and include the same regulations for weapon restrictions and access.

The special hunt is part of an effort to learn more about the extent of CWD in northwest Montana, after a deer within the Libby city limits tested positive for the disease earlier this year. Since then, out of 60 road-killed wild game tested, six white-tailed deer were positive for CWD, which is a progressive, fatal disease that affects the nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose and elk.

“The 60 that were road killed don’t tell us anything about the problem or distribution. Those were just near town,” Tabish said. “Now we’ll get real data from hunters.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no transmissions of CWD is known to have taken place from cervids to humans or other animals, including pets and livestock. The federal agency recommends that hunters harvesting deer, elk or moose from areas where CWD is present to have their animal tested prior to consuming the meat.

FWP will sample all of the deer taken during this hunt for free. If an animal is positive for CWD, the hunter will be given a new tag.

Tabish notes that historically, roughly 40% of the hunters fill their tags and the cost of the test is $18 each. That means about 240 tests will need to be administered at a cost to FWP of $4,320. The license sales raise about $6,000, but Tabish is quick to note that this isn’t about making money. He’s not sure about the cost for FWP for its management activities, but noted that they’ve hired a full-time technician in the Libby area to help wildlife biologists with the sampling, and other costs also are involved.

“We’re also developing the traps for in town, and there are other costs,” Tabish said.

Chronic wasting disease was first discovered in Montana in 2017, and since then has been detected in deer mainly along the northern border east of the Continental Divide, and south of Billings. FWP has installed check stations for wild game in those areas and is undertaking surveillance and monitoring, and during this year’s fall hunt will be focused in southwestern Montana, including in the Philipsburg area.

For the Libby hunt, harvested animals must be checked within three days at either the new Libby Special CWD Hunt Sampling Station at the Montana Department of Transportation shop on U.S. Highway 2 near mile marker 35, or the Canoe Gulch check station. Hunters who quarter or bone out their animal in the field must bring the head for sampling.

Before Oct. 26, successful hunters must bring the head to the FWP Libby Office, 385 Fish Hatchery Road. A collection site will be set up for hunters to self-report and submit the head for testing. Hunters also must document the exact location of the kill.

Hunters are reminded that to reduce the spread of CWD, whole carcasses, whole heads or spinal columns cannot be taken out of the Libby CWD Management Zone unless the animal has tested negative for CWD.

A public meeting was set for Monday in Eureka. Other meetings include:

• Wednesday, Aug. 21 – Polson, Kwataqnuk Resort, 49708 U.S. Highway 93, 6 p.m.

• Thursday, Aug. 22 – Trout Creek, Lakeside Resort, 2955 Montana Hwy. 200, 6 p.m.

• Monday, Aug. 26 – Kalispell, FWP Region 1 Office, 490 N. Meridian, 6 p.m.

• Wednesday, Aug. 28 – Libby, Ponderosa Room, City Hall, 952 East Spruce St., 6 p.m.

• Wednesday, Sept. 11 – Kalispell, FWP Region 1 Office, in conjunction with Flathead Wildlife, Inc., 7 p.m.

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