In November of 2021, Idaho Fish and Game announced that two deer tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease. These deer were found in north-central Idaho, near Riggins. Since then, three more deer and an elk also tested positive in the same area. This is the first time it’s been detected in Idaho.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is in the same family as Mad Cow Disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is a fatal neurological disease that affects cervids – deer, elk, and moose. While there are no known cases of CWD transferring from deer or elk to humans, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and others recommend against eating any meat from an infected animal. Although this highly contagious disease has been detected in the US since the late 1960s and has been confirmed in 27 states, not much is known about how to slow the spread of CWD. There is no known preventative treatment or cure for CWD. These unknown factors show how CWD has the potential to decimate Idaho’s $1+ billion hunting economy.

What can we do to stop the spread? 

ICL and other wildlife advocates have long been concerned with the lack of adequate CWD testing on game farms, which pose significant threats to our wild deer and elk herds. Positive CWD cases have been documented in surrounding mountain states and provinces including Utah, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Alberta. This documented spread coupled with deer and elk farms harboring the disease highlights the need for more monitoring in these facilities.

Testing of brain or spinal tissues is the only way that CWD can be identified, which means that it can only be done once an animal has died. Current Idaho rules require testing of only 10% of elk that are killed and 100% for animals that die of “natural causes.” This rule has a loophole around carcasses, which are untestable samples if decomposed. Tests cost about $30 to conduct, whereas prices for canned elk hunts regularly go for between $6,000-$15,000+ for a bull elk. Elk farmers have an incentive to test their herds to protect their investments, prevent the spread of the disease, and to avoid the destruction or quarantine of their herds if CWD is found. 

While several surrounding states have outlawed elk and deer farming, Idaho has over 40 deer or elk farms with a total captive population of around 5,000 elk and 190 deer. Idaho’s high population of deer and elk highlight why this is a pressing issue in the state and needs significant attention.

Take Action to contact your legislators to let them know you are concerned about the spread of CWD from elk and deer farms and want to see additional measures implemented to protect Idaho’s wildlife.

What else can be done?

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission already established a CWD management zone in north-central Idaho that authorized a hunt of up to 1,000 whitetails and mule deer in Units 14 and 15. Hunters are a huge asset to monitoring for CWD. Testing for animals harvested from CWD zones is required, winter feeding is prohibited, and transportation of elk or deer carcasses from infected zones is prohibited unless all potentially-infected brain and spinal tissue is removed and tested for CWD. Once the special hunt concludes, IDFG will develop a management plan with input from the public and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. But that’s not enough to stop the spread of CWD.

Take action today to ask your legislators to implement measures to increase monitoring and enforcement to prevent the spread of CWD.