CWD is a slow-spreading, always-fatal disease that takes one to two years to kill an infected deer, so it does not destroy deer populations in dramatic fashion. Rather, in diseased areas, it threatens to slowly erode deer productivity and reduce a population’s ability to sustain hunter harvest without declining. Where the infection rate is allowed to climb without intervention, maintaining a deer population could eventually mean reducing or ending hunter harvest. In the oldest outbreak areas, this is already happening. The slow-building attack camouflages CWD’s seriousness and makes it difficult for people to see and accept the risk.
The National Deer Association is leading deer hunters to help slow or stop the spread of the disease to new areas while scientists seek solutions. There is not yet a simple solution to the CWD problem, but scientists know much more today than they did when CWD first appeared. We have new weapons for the fight that we didn’t have in the past. The eventual “solution” to CWD may not be a vaccine or cure, as some imagine, but an unexpected breakthrough or unforeseen strategy. That’s why NDA is leading hunters to help stop the spread of CWD while advocating for increased funding for research.
CWD is an always-fatal disease found in most deer species, including elk, reindeer, moose, mule, red and white-tailed deer. As of May 2023, CWD has been identified in 31 U.S. states, five Canadian provinces (including the Toronto Zoo), Korea (from an elk imported from Canada in 1997), Norway (in free-ranging reindeer, moose and red deer), Finland (free-ranging moose) and Sweden (free-ranging moose). Contagions spread through urine, feces, saliva, blood, semen, deer parts, and especially via live deer. Importantly, there is no vaccine or cure.
NDA’s Position on CWD
The National Deer Association believes that CWD is the most serious long-term threat to the future of wild deer and deer hunting that we face today. Action by hunters now can delay or prevent damage while scientists look for new tools in the fight. But because CWD’s impacts are difficult to see on the landscape now or won’t become serious for many years in most areas, it is easy for some to dismiss or disregard the danger. NDA believes we must engage the disease today, and slow or stop the continued spread to new areas now, to protect wild deer and hunting for future generations. It will take a coalition of hunters, landowners, scientists, and state and federal wildlife agencies to address CWD, but the fight is winnable, and one day we will defeat this threat.
Where Is It?
The NDA has also teamed up onX Hunt with to bring you up-to-date info on CWD distribution, regulated zones, as well as CWD sampling sites and disposal locations. Get the app and use these layers to ensure you are following the rules and regulations in place to help stop the spread of CWD.
And to view a map that displays regulations impacting where you are allowed to transport whole deer, elk or other cervid carcasses as you are traveling after a successful hunt, visit the CWD Alliance. Don’t be caught transporting a legal harvest into a prohibited state or province!
How Deer Hunters Can Fight CWD
- Know if you hunt in a CWD management zone where the disease has been found or will be traveling to hunt in a CWD zone. This is basic, crucial knowledge that helps you learn and follow regulations and guidelines designed to prevent the spread of CWD out of these zones.
- If you hunt in a CWD zone, submit all harvested deer to the state wildlife agency for CWD testing (and wait for satisfactory results before consuming the venison). Testing helps the agency keep tabs on the disease’s prevalence and location, which is crucial information for protecting the deer resource and hunting.
- If you hunt in a CWD zone, dispose of deer carcasses inside the zone following the recommendations of that state’s wildlife agency. Leave the zone only with boned-out meat, antlers connected to clean skull plates, clean hides, or clean jawbones/teeth. Most states now ban the importation of whole deer carcasses and are enforcing these laws.
- If you kill a deer that tests positive for CWD, that’s a good thing. You removed an infected deer from the woods, which helps fight the disease. Don’t let it get you down. Collect your replacement tag from the state wildlife agency, keep hunting, and keep testing the deer you harvest.
- If you do not hunt in a CWD zone, but your state wildlife agency asks you to voluntarily submit deer for CWD testing, respond to the call for help. Submit your deer for testing. Discovering new CWD outbreaks early is critical to reducing the impact.
- Report sick deer immediately to your state wildlife agency. Whether you see or harvest a deer that appears unhealthy, the state wildlife agency may want to examine and test the deer. Early detection of CWD is very important, so don’t hesitate to report sick deer.
- Connect with your state wildlife agency for information, even if you don’t hunt in or near a CWD zone. Sign up for the agency’s e-newsletter, follow them on social media, and attend public hearings whenever offered. Stay informed about all wildlife issues in your state, including deer health and hunting regulations.
What NDA is Doing
The Good News / Latest Advancements in CWD Management
The National Deer Association has joined a coalition of timber companies and conservation organizations formed to fight chronic wasting disease (CWD) among deer in the Southeast. The new coalition will promote practices that help discover, manage, and mitigate the negative impacts of CWD.
The CWD Research and Management Act passes with federal legislative budget package, which authorizes $70 million annually from fiscal year 2022 to fiscal year 2028 for research and management of CWD, with the money split evenly between research and management.
Nearly $20 million in funding was earmarked to study prions in soil, to further develop testing methodology, and to learn how certain infectious agents evolve to help spread CWD.
A recent poll found that 96% of respondents said it is important for their state to take action to limit the spread of CWD.
Wisconsin enacted new and renewed baiting/feeding bans, and Idaho approved changes to their regular deer/elk season structure based on CWD.
Florida promoted an innovative CWD monitoring Sweepstakes to incentivize and inform the public.
Pennsylvania and Montana researchers are attempting to train dogs to positively identify CWD by scent.
A recent study from the Mississippi State University Deer Lab has been able to confirm CWD prions in scrapes and licking branches and suggests the potential for using scrapes for CWD monitoring in the future.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota and Creighton University have developed a new approach to discover CWD positive remains of white-tailed deer in carcass disposal sites. This research provides the foundation for future investigations of prion transmission risk from carcass disposal.
Important Facts About CWD in Deer
- The most likely method for spreading CWD is through the movement of live deer since there is no reliable and practice live animal test
- Movement of high-risk parts of harvested animals is another likely method for spreading the disease. High-risk parts include the brain, eyes, backbone and spleen.
- Research shows variances in infectivity among prion transport systems (for example, saliva may be ten times as infectious as urine)
- Plants can bind, uptake and transport prions from infected soil and hamsters that ate the plants contracted the disease
- One study found that mineral licks can serve as reservoirs of CWD prions and thus facilitate disease transmission
- CWD has also been shown to experimentally infect squirrel monkeys, pigs and laboratory mice that carry some human genes
- There is currently conflicting evidence of potential infection to primates closely related to humans (macaque monkeys) when they consumed infected venison
- CWD-positive deer are two to three times more likely to die and are considerably less active than healthy deer
- Adult does are ten times more likely to be CWD-positive if they have a CWD-positive relative nearby
- Multiple scientific studies have confirmed population declines over time in white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk populations from CWD
- Eradication of CWD after it has become established in a wild deer population does not appear feasible with the current tools available
What’s the Long-Term Outlook?
In the early stages of an outbreak, it is possible to break the cycle of transmission by rapidly lowering deer density and hopefully killing any additional infected deer in the area. However, once the disease is established and additional cases continue to appear, the goal might be shifted to continue holding density low and maintaining a younger age structure to help slow the spread of the disease. CWD moves slowly through a population, and it kills individual deer slowly. The impact is not dramatic or rapid, which is why some hunters believe CWD is not a serious problem. However, over the course of years, CWD will gradually grow in prevalence if it is not actively managed, and it will eventually reduce populations.
For now, it’s best for all hunters to focus on preventing CWD from spreading into new areas by following the guidelines outline above in the “How Deer Hunters Can Fight CWD” section. If it arrives, it’s best to focus on preventing its growth and expansion. Researchers are currently working to learn more about the disease, the best methods of control, and the potential for a CWD vaccine. Hopefully, the years to come will bring us new understanding and new tools to combat this serious challenge to whitetails and our deer hunting heritage.