OLYMPIA – State wildlife officials are urging residents heading out of state for deer and elk hunting to have their game processed before bringing it back home, to reduce the risk of introducing chronic wasting disease into this state.
"We are confident Washington hunters will work with us to take preventive action in keeping our native deer and elk herds free of this terrible disease," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Director Jeff Koenings.
Koenings said the recommendation to hunters is one of several steps the department is pursuing to ensure the state's deer and elk herds remain free of chronic wasting disease. In coming months the department expects to expand testing of animals for the disease, and prepare a contingency plan in case the disease is detected in Washington.
Each year, tens of thousands of Washington residents head out of state to hunt. Specifically, those hunters are advised to have their out-of-state deer or elk carcasses boned out, cut and wrapped before bringing the game back home. Hides and antlers also may be brought back to the state, but if the antlers are attached to the skull plate, the skull plate should be thoroughly cleaned with household bleach before transporting it.
The state of Oregon yesterday took similar action to ban its hunters from importing the head or spinal column of cervid species, including deer, elk or moose, hunted in other states or countries.
Chronic wasting disease has not been detected in Washington, Oregon or Idaho. However, nine other states, including Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska, as well as the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, have found the disease in free-ranging or captive (farmed) whitetail deer, mule deer or elk.
Washington is considered a low-risk state for chronic wasting disease because the state is geographically removed from areas where the disease has been detected and because game farming was banned here a decade ago. Although scientists do not fully understand how chronic wasting disease is transmitted, it is believed the transport of animals for game farming may have played a role in spreading the disease in other states.
"Washington's action a decade ago to ban game farming appears to have been an important step in keeping our wild deer and elk herds free of this and other serious diseases," Koenings said. "This latest precaution in the handling of out of state carcasses will add another measure of protection."
Chronic wasting disease, a disease of the central nervous system which causes deer and elk to waste away and eventually die, is believed to be caused by an abnormal prion protein but scientists are not yet certain how the disease is transmitted. There is no known vaccine, cure or currently available test for live animals.
The disease is a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). Other TSEs include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Currently, there is no documented evidence of humans contracting a TSE disease from eating the meat of infected deer or elk.
Washington has increased monitoring for chronic wasting disease, sampling 750 hunter-harvested animals statewide last fall. State wildlife managers plan to test an additional 900 animals this season.
For more information on chronic wasting disease and WDFW's monitoring efforts check the department's website on the Internet.