Locals will be first in line Aug. 19 when hunting licenses go on sale in Libby as part of a plan to cull the urban white-tailed deer herd after five tested positive for chronic wasting disease, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Friday.
While the state agency is finalizing details of the Special CWD hunt in the Libby area, it plans to offer 600 white-tailed deer antlerless B licenses in the management zone, which includes portions of Hunting Districts 100, 103 and 104. That’s double the 2018 quota for all of the three districts, and the licenses will be good during the regular and archery seasons.
Licenses will go on sale from 8 to 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 19 at retailers in Libby, Noxon, Eureka, Kalispell and Troy in order to give locals first chance. They can purchase up to two of the B licenses, which allows them to harvest does or young bucks with spikes less than 4 inches. After 10 a.m., the licenses will be available statewide.
“I bet by 10:15 there will not be very many licenses left,” noted Dillon Tabish, the Region 1 information officer. “There might be lines starting out the door pretty early; we want locals to have the first chance.”
He noted that last year, they sold more than 1,000 special licenses in less than an hour in central Montana after CWD was detected in herds there.
Chronic wasting disease, which is a fatal, degenerative neurological sickness, was first found in Montana in 2017. It occurs mainly in cervids like deer, elk and moose, and hadn’t been detected west of the Continental Divide in Montana until May, when a sick doe was discovered within the Libby city limits. Since then, five white-tailed deer in Libby have tested positive for the disease.
In recent weeks, FWP has sampled 62 animals in and around Libby, including 57 white-tailed deer, four mule deer and one moose. Of those, 45 samples were taken from road-killed incidents and the rest were from potentially symptomatic animals. Results are pending for 28 samples.
Testing isn’t available on live animals, which is why they need to be shot.
Friday, Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, applauded the quick action taken by FWP and the city of Libby to try to curtail the outbreak.
“CWD is the most serious threat to our big game herds and it demands aggressive action,” Gevock told the Missoulian. “I was really shocked when it got into Libby; no one can say conclusively how it got there. It was nowhere near where previous detections occurred.”
Licenses for the special hunt in Libby are good for about a 10-mile radius around the area where white-tailed deer tested positive for CWD.
All of the hunters within the zone, including those using general elk, deer or moose licenses, will need to take the head of their harvested animal during the archery season to the FWP office in Libby, at 385 Hatchery Road, where they will take samples for CWD testing.
During the general hunting season, a collection site for the heads instead will be set up at the Montana Department of Transportation shop on Highway 2 near mile marker 35 beginning Oct. 26. Hunters who quarter or bone out their animal in the field still must bring the head to the collection station.
“We’ll have someone there from 11 a.m. to an hour past sunset every day where you can bring the head in and we will collect the lymph nodes,” Tabish said. “You will get the results in 10 to 14 days. I know that’s a pain in the butt to wait for hunters; I’m not going to sugar coat that. But we recommend you don’t eat the mean unless it tests negative.”
Tabish urged hunters to plan ahead and have a place to freeze the meat until they know whether or not the animal tested positive for CWD. Hunters whose animals test positive will be given a new license.
Tabish said hunters like the additional opportunities to harvest deer, and since they’re being tested for free there’s little concern about transmitting CWD to humans.
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“Evidence shows that people are not stopping hunting because of this,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the disease hasn’t shown the ability to spread to humans, pets or livestock. However, the federal agency recommends testing deer, elk or moose harvested in areas where CWD is known to be present.
A map of the CWD Management Zone will be available online, at FWP Region 1 headquarters or by contacting Dillon Tabish at 751-4564 or Dillon.Tabish@mt.gov. He said they’re putting the final touches on the map, wanting it to be as specific as possible.
Carcasses of harvested deer can’t be moved outside the management zone in an effort to limit the spread of CWD. The prions — or proteins — that form CWD mainly are in the animals’ bodily fluids, including blood and spinal fluids, so FWP wants hunters to quarter the meat and leave the carcass in place unless they can take it to the Lincoln County landfill, which is a lined repository.
“Ideally they’ll take it to the landfill,” Tabish said, noting that the prions can be absorbed into the soil and possibly retransmitted to other cervids. “We just don’t want them to take the brain or spine out of the management area.”
Hunters outside the special management zones also are encouraged to get their deer tested, but will have to pay the $17 fee themselves. FWP will provide information on how to take samples and send them out for testing.
The city of Libby also will undertake efforts to cull “hundreds” of the urban white-tailed deer, Tabish added. Starting in September, they’ll set out big box “clover” traps with bait inside them. When the deer are captured, they’ll be removed from the site and euthanized. They’ll also be sampled for CWD, and the meat from those that test negative will be donated to local food banks.
“We will not be going around directly shooting deer in town,” Tabish said. “This will help us figure out the prevalence of CWD in the urban area, but also cull the herds … because large groups of animals can spread the disease exponentially.”
The city council approved the measure on public lands inside of Libby, and Tabish said they’ll only set traps on private property with the approval of the landowner.
During a meeting in Libby on Friday, Mayor Brent Teske urged residents to remove deer attractants like apples, cherries and plums from trees. The Missoulian listened to the meeting via a phone link.
"Inadvertently, people don't think about it ... but if you have some way to deal with the produce that would be great," Teske said. "I'm sure there are people out there that would be willing, like church organizations, so the produce doesn't lay on the ground and the deer congregate."
Chronic wasting disease has been found in 25 states, as well as in Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada. In Montana, it’s been detected in north-central counties along the Canadian border and in the region south of Billings.
People in the Libby area who see a deer that appears to be sick are asked to call 291-6539.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, introduced a bill this year that would authorize $60 million to help combat the spread of the disease. It’s awaiting a hearing, but if the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Act passes, funds would go to state wildlife agencies and tribes for management, including rapid response in newly infected areas, and also toward research grants.
The next information meeting is Aug. 16 at noon in the Ponderosa Room at Libby City Hall, 952 Spruce St. Additional meetings are being scheduled in Libby, Kalispell, Trout Creek, Eureka and Polson.