Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming continues its march north and west


photo courtesy Wyoming Game and Fish Department

Chronic Wasting Disease is on the move towards western Wyoming’s winter elk feedgrounds and Yellowstone National Park.
A retired U.S Fish and Wildlife Service biologist says this is something the public and policy-makers need to pay close attention to.
Dr. Bruce Smith is a former senior biologist at the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming and author of “Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd.”
In the first of our two-part interview, Smith, a resident of Sheridan, Montana,¬† explains to Edward O’Brien the basic science behind C-W-D.
In short, it’s an insidious, highly transmissible disease that sticks around in its environment:

11 thoughts on “Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming continues its march north and west

  1. Edward, don’t know if it will be in tomorrow’s episode, but don’t forget one of the premier CWD/TSE research programs exists at Rocky Mountain Lab in Hamilton, MT. Where Prions have been studied for many years.

    • Excellent point, Jim. In this case I did not speak to the scientists at RML, but that’s a fabulous resource for future CWD stories. Thanks…

  2. Edward If there is no live animal test how do we know that CWD is always a fatal disease ??? Can there be such a think as a CWD carrier ???

    • Ron, I passed along your comment to Dr. Smith and here’s what he had to say: “This is an excellent, but complex question. To be more accurate, I should have stated in the interview that once clinical signs appear in an infected animal, death is certain–100% case mortality rate. However, cervids generally incubate the disease for weeks or months before they present clinical signs. Can an animal be a carrier, suggesting that infectious prions do not cause disease in some animals? One can never say never, but because prions contain no nucleic acid, they do not tip off host immune systems to react to their presence. Experimentally infected animals inevitably die, so there is a strong likelihood that once infected with pathogenic prions, most if not all susceptible host individuals will develop clinical CWD at some point in their life. This is my understanding of the science.
      There is now a live animal test, but it requires a biopsy and then laboratory screening of the tonsils. Other live test research is ongoing.”

  3. Would CWD be transmitable to other species, such as predators like wolves? If not, I don’t know why they are killing off wolves who could be helpful in limiting the spread of this disease.

    • Hi Gail,
      It seems CWD is limited to what wildlife biologists call “Cervids”. In other words, whitetails, mulies, elk and moose.

    • Your point is a good one, Gail. Both field research and mathmatical modelling have suggested that predators my limit the prevalence of CWD in cervids. One study of mountain lions in CO showed that lions selected CWD-infected mule deer. Clinically ill deer may well be easier marks for predators.

      Because of the way they hunt, by coursing/chasing their prey, rather than ambush hunting like lions, wolves are even more likely to sort out and select disadvantaged animals when they hunt. Again research has been published on this topic suggesting restored wolf populations may slow the spread and limit the prevalence of CWD in deer herds.

  4. Thank you, Bruce. I am disturbed by the relatively recent war on wolves, coyotes and other predators and it leaves me wondering about collateral damage which seems sure to occur – eventually.

  5. Why don’t you guy’s just come out as the wolf restoration committee? I am sure there would be a tremendous reduction in CWD cases anywhere that wolves roam. Only makes sense that when all of the wildlife is eaten by the wolves there are none left to have the disease. The worst disease of all is the lack of common sense disease that has seemed to perpetuate throughout most Government employee’s. You researchers all say that it takes 1500 degree heat to kill the prions, if so, how many wolves are running at that temperature? I would be very surprised if wolves aren’t capable of spreading the disease as well as every other animal that feeds on contaminated carcasses. The response to CWD is embarrassing to say the least and continues to only serve as a place to hype up fear to promote you various agendas. I appreciate Gail adding the word eventually to the end of her comment so as to give her a couple of hundred years to be proven right or wrong.

  6. Tim, I don’t grope in the air for reasons to promote or attempt to veil *my* agenda. I at least make an effort to follow scientific studies on the benefits of predatory animals.. I also don’t view predators as a threat to “my moose” or myself, or my pets, or anything else. Talk about hyping up fear!
    What exactly, Tim, is *your* response to CWD? Anxious to hear…..

  7. Wasn’t life grand in Yellowstone before larger than native Canadian wolves were introduced, not re-introduced as most scientific types try to act like. First of all Gail, I appreciate you answering. Second, no one ever answers the question of what happens to the prions once ingested by a wolf, mountain lion, crow, eagle or vulture. All of these travel hundreds of miles and in my opinion spread the disease. I also didn’t know you owned a Moose and you must have one bad A$$’d cat or dog if you would take it for a stroll around wolves. As Elk populations continue to thrive in almost every corner of their habitat they are disappearing from the landscape in and around Yellowstone. Dun bout got ate up by all them there wolves that don’t kill nuthin. Gail, your agenda is simple; instill wolves into every ecosystem in the world to prevent enough animals surviving to have huntable numbers. That way man would be out of the equation. Have you ever attended USAHA? FYI Gail, I am not a wildlife biologist. I actually went to college to be one but was miffed at the antiquated models used by the professors who apparently still think Leopold should still be taught as if we haven’t learned anything in a hundred years. My response to CWD would have been to not shoot a bunch of mule deer brains full of scrapie and several other diseases to see if they get them, at the Colorado Division of Wildlife research center. If I had been that stupid, I certainly would not have been so stupid as to have re-released them to the wild or let them co-mingle with other wildlife and then sent to Wyoming to be spread all over their landscape or given to zoo’s or used in grazing studies or sent to other non bio-secure locations or traded to elk farmers. If I had of been that stupid, I certainly would have stopped the transportation of contaminated carcasses all over the USA for 50 years by un suspecting hunters who didn’t know better. If I had been that stupid, I certainly wouldn’t have blamed it on others. If I were that stupid I would admit it.

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