Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan


Published: December 2021

Pages: 85

Author(s): Melia T. DeVivo, Sara J. K. Hansen, and Kristin G. Mansfield

Executive Summary

Purpose and Goals

The mission of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (hereafter the Department) is to preserve, protect, and perpetuate the state’s fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities. This mission represents the deeply held value of connection with the natural world shared by all Washingtonians and forms the basis of the Department’s commitment to be prepared and able to respond to emerging situations that represent significant risk to the health and longevity of the state’s native wildlife. In the case of risks to big game species like deer (mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus hemionus; black-tailed deer, O.h. columbianus; white-tailed deer, O. virginianus), elk (Cervus canadensis), and moose (Alces alces), the consequences of inaction could profoundly affect Washington’s vibrant hunting and outdoor recreation culture, as well as the economic benefits that support communities and conservation throughout the state. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is one such risk, and of the many diseases affecting wild cervids (members of the deer family Cervidae) in North America, has the greatest potential to negatively impact wild cervid populations long-term if not proactively addressed and diligently managed.

Proactive prevention and management of CWD is of paramount importance given the increasing evidence that long-term population declines are likely when outbreaks are unmanaged (Monello et al. 2014, Edmunds et al. 2016, DeVivo et al. 2017). Measures to improve prevention and early detection are critical because it is exceedingly difficult, and likely impossible to eliminate CWD with existing management tools once the disease becomes endemic (i.e., established and widespread within an affected population). For example, of the 25 states that have detected CWD in their wild cervid populations, New York is the only one where it was apparently eradicated after detection in wild deer (Evans et al. 2014). New York’s presumed success was likely due to a combination of factors, including a robust surveillance program that enabled early detection and response, and once detected, prompt implementation of several emergency regulations to prevent the spread of CWD (Evans et al. 2014).

Successful management of CWD requires substantial funding and staff resources well beyond what state wildlife agencies can support on their own (Bishop 2004, Vaske 2010).

Hunters help support disease management activities financially through license purchases and are a valuable resource for obtaining samples for testing. If CWD becomes established in a population, hunters may be less likely to participate in hunting activities (Vaske 2010), which could decrease agency capacity to manage the disease. Any detection of CWD in wild cervids in Washington would need to be addressed through aggressive management to prevent its establishment and spread within the state. This would require sustained commitment by wildlife managers, government entities, Tribes, and the public. Some proposed actions could be difficult to implement due to logistical and budgetary constraints, as well as potential conflicts between CWD best management practices and the societal value of wildlife to various stakeholders. However, if the following actions are implemented in a reasonable manner appropriate to the situation at hand, the long-term ecological and recreational benefits of actively preventing establishment of CWD in Washington would likely outweigh the financial and social costs.

Washington is home to several wild cervid species, including mule deer, black-tailed deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. In addition, two federally protected cervid species, woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) and Columbian white-tailed deer (O.v. leucurus), are native to Washington. The intent of the Department is to respond to the risks and realities of CWD with the goal of preventing introduction of the disease to wild cervid populations in Washington and to minimize the long-term effects of the disease should it become established in these populations. The Washington CWD Management Plan (hereafter the Plan) is structured with the intent to be adaptable and support timely incorporation of new information from peer-reviewed scientific sources and wildlife disease management practitioners as it becomes available. The Plan has been written broadly for known susceptible species and, where applicable, species-specific considerations are addressed. Woodland caribou and Columbian white-tailed deer are managed jointly with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and local Tribes, thus separate CWD plans will be developed for these two species and they will not be addressed in this Plan.

This Plan identifies specific objectives for addressing the biological, administrative, and social factors involved in effective management of the disease. The Plan also outlines the strategies the Department will implement to meet each objective based on current best management practices for the prevention and management of CWD in the wild, as recommended by the

Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) (Gillin and Mawdsley 2018). These strategies are designed to provide clear, timely, and effective guidance that will present the state of Washington with the best chance to: 1) create a communication model that ensures that the public and identified stakeholders are informed, engaged, and invested in the goals of the Plan; 2) prevent CWD from entering the state; 3) establish a robust surveillance plan to detect CWD as early as possible should it enter Washington; and 4) establish a response plan to minimize the long-term effects of CWD on cervid populations in Washington should the disease be detected. Some proposed actions in this Plan will require support from the Washington State Legislature and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (the Commission) to implement.


The establishment of hunting seasons and management of game species, both captive and wild, is consistent with the authorities granted to the Fish and Wildlife Commission and Department of Fish and Wildlife by the Washington State Legislature through Title 77 of the Revised Code of Washington. The Commission develops and adopts regulations (i.e., rules in the Washington Administrative Code) pertaining to management of wildlife resources as granted under Title 77 authority. Various Commission and Department policies and procedures, including this Plan, guide game management as well.

The Department and Commission are responsible for the management and protection of fish and wildlife resources in Washington State. The Legislative mandate (RCW 77.04.012) for the Commission and the Department includes the following directives for wildlife management:

  • The Commission, director, and the Department shall preserve, protect, perpetuate, and manage the wildlife.
  • The Department shall conserve the wildlife resources in a manner that does not impair the resource. The Commission may authorize the taking of wildlife only at times or places, or in manners or quantities, as in the judgment of the Commission does not impair the supply of these resources.

Development of a management plan to address emergence of a significant wildlife disease is essential to meeting these directives. The Washington State Chronic Wasting Disease Management Plan is consistent within the broader scope of the 2015-2021 Game Management Plan (GMP; WDFW 2014), and in accordance with the Department’s Hunting Season Guidelines. The GMP (WDFW 2014) stresses the importance of science as a foundation for developing regulations and conservation approaches to management.

The process of establishing and altering regulatory rules governing game species is a multiple-step process. Legislative mandates and Commission guidelines for management of these species require appropriate information such as current distribution, population status and trend, and harvest and recreational objectives. Using available information, Department staff develop rule recommendations to address emergent management issues, maximize sustainable hunting opportunities, and promote conservation. The final step in the rule development process occurs when the Commission adopts new rules and rule changes based upon recommendations from the Department biological staff and public input. Major hunting season rules are set for three-year intervals; minor adjustments occur annually, such as modifying special permit hunt levels to address crop damage or nuisance problems, or sudden unexpected habitat or environmental changes. Emergency rules can be implemented outside of these cycles in specific circumstances. Emergency rules do not require public notice or hearing. They usually take effect when filed with the Code Reviser and can remain in effect for up to 120 days after filing. An agency can re-file the emergency rule if the agency has started the permanent rulemaking process.

Chronic Wasting Disease Management Goals, Objectives, and Strategies

Goal: To prevent the establishment of CWD in wild cervid populations in Washington and minimize the long-term effects of the disease should it enter these populations.

Objective 1:

Proactively build trust with and support from the public and stakeholders regarding CWD management activities during each phase of the Plan


  1. Establish a public advisory group within the first year of Plan adoption to provide immediate feedback on proposed activities and assist in development and implementation of strategies to improve communication with the public and stakeholders B. Implement long-term human dimensions initiative to determine baseline public perceptions and awareness of CWD issues and additional periodic assessments that will inform development and adaptation of culturally appropriate messaging and outreach materials during each phase of the Plan
  2. During pre-detection phase, implement annual schedule of communication and outreach activities (Table 3) using Key Pre-detection Messages to raise general awareness about CWD, its potential effects if it were to become established, and to remind all parties of actions they can take to reduce the risk of CWD becoming established in Washington
  3. During initial-detection phase, implement annual schedule of communication and outreach activities (Table 4) using Key Initial-detection Response Messages to increase awareness of management actions the Department is implementing in response to an initial CWD detection and any subsequent need for citizen assistance

Objective 2:

Reduce known risks for CWD entering Washington


  1. Assess and prioritize risk factors through which CWD may enter the state
  2. Assess and make recommendations for adjustments to current regulations and creation of new regulations to mitigate those risks

Objective 3:

Minimize potential for CWD to become established in Washington by implementing a pre-detection surveillance program upon adoption of the Plan


  1. Secure support for proposed budget and capacity needs required to implement and sustain the program
  2. Develop surveillance sampling design and schedule
  3. Establish contacts, protocols, and infrastructure for sample acquisition

Objective 4:

Minimize potential for negative long-term effects of CWD on cervid populations in Washington should CWD be detected during surveillance activities


  1. Organize and complete a “tabletop” exercise with Department staff and stakeholders to test the Initial Emergency Response plan and identify potential deficiencies and needed improvements
  2. Implement the Initial Emergency Response when CWD is detected
  3. Implement monitoring to obtain estimates of appropriate disease and population metrics to guide decisions regarding ongoing steps in management of the disease
  4. Apply an adaptive management framework (Stankey et al. 2005) to monitor and evaluate the effect of implemented management actions and use results to inform and improve efficacy of actions during subsequent monitoring efforts

Plan Components

The Plan consists of multiple components, each developed as separate chapters that can be adapted and improved as new information becomes available.

Chapter 1: Background

Presents essential information that provides details about the disease, strategies for responding to a disease outbreak, and the history of CWD surveillance in Washington.

Chapter 2: Public Outreach and Communication

Outlines outreach activities that will be implemented throughout the evolution and implementation of the Plan.

Chapter 3: Risk Assessment and Minimization

Discusses risk factors and best management practices for prevention within the context of current Washington state regulations and practices. Also provides prioritized recommendations for revision of current regulations and development of additional regulations critical to successful achievement of the Department’s overall CWD management goals.

Chapter 4: Pre-detection Surveillance

Describes a framework for critical surveillance activities the Department will implement once legislative support and funding has been secured.

Chapter 5: Initial Emergency Response

Describes the Department’s initial localized emergency response to a CWD detection. Also, describes the establishment of an Incident Management Team, CWD management areas, and assessment of the prevalence and distribution of CWD after initial detection, specific to the area where the detection occurred.

Suggested citation

DeVivo, M. T., S. J. K. Hansen, and K. G. Mansfield. 2021. Washington State Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Management Plan. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington, USA.