« Return to this article

Know the West

Chronic wasting disease hits Montana deer, elk

State scrambles to respond to discovery of deadly neurological disease


Chronic wasting disease — a fatal, highly contagious neurological disorder — first appeared in northern Colorado in 1967. Now it afflicts elk, deer and moose in 19 states and three Canadian provinces, including Wyoming. Transmission occurs through proteins in urine, feces, saliva and carcass tissues from infected animals; they also accumulate in soils (“Wasting disease in wildlife inches toward Yellowstone,” HCN, 5/11/15).


In November, the disease was discovered in Montana for the first time. The state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks formed a response team, released a management plan, and planned two special hunting seasons. The Fish and Wildlife Commission also asked Wyoming to stop feeding elk at 23 feedgrounds, which concentrate animals and may spread the disease. “The arrival of CWD is terrifying,” Dan Vermillion, commission chairman, told Mountain Journal. “It’s heartbreaking, the more I learn about the science and the potential it has to harm our game herds.”