Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Elk with visible ribs shows signs of CWD
Photo by WDFW
An elk exhibits signs of Chronic Wasting Disease in Wyoming. These signs are rarely seen in the wild because most animals die of other causes before reaching this stage of the disease. Most animals with CWD will look normal.

Get your deer or elk tested and enter the drawing for a free multi-season deer tag: Information is on the CWD surveillance program page. The Washington Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) helped to purchase 100 multi-season deer tags.  Anyone who submits a CWD sample will have their name put into a random drawing for the tags. 

Carcass transport restrictions! Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 220-413-030 restricts the importation of certain parts of deer, elk, moose, or caribou harvested outside Washington. For guidance on what is legal to import to Washington, review the WAC. This map has other states and province's importation regulations.

Nationwide chronic wasting disease information on state-by-state carcass transport rules, baiting/feeding, scent lure bans, and more can be found on the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance website.

Backcountry hunters and anglers

What is CWD?

As of 2023, chronic wasting disease (CWD)  has been detected in 30 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces, but not in Washington. CWD is a fatal illness of cervids, which include white-tailed deer, black-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, moose, and caribou. The disease is caused by mutated proteins known as prions, which can contaminate the environment and be transmitted between animals through their feces, saliva, urine, and other bodily fluids. Most animals with CWD appear normal until the end stages of the disease when they show signs of weight loss, lethargy, drooping ears, excessive salivation and urination, and loss of fear of people. There is no cure for CWD.

The following video from the Mississippi State University Deer Ecology and Management Lab explains more about how CWD affects animals and how prion diseases work. Additional videos from the Lab cover topics such as how CWD affects deer populations, how it spreads, best practices for managing CWD, and more. 

Colorado and Wyoming are currently dealing with the impacts of chronic wasting disease. This video illustrates the challenges of managing the spread of the disease and how activities like wildlife feeding and baiting can increase the spread of it.

What is being done to stop or slow the spread of CWD in Washington?

WDFW is taking a proactive approach to managing CWD and adopted a CWD Management Plan in December 2021. The Plan outlines strategies for public outreach and communication, risk assessment and minimization, pre-detection surveillance, and initial emergency response to a detection of CWD.

WDFW began limited testing for CWD in 1995 and, with additional federal funding provided specifically for CWD testing, conducted statewide surveillance for CWD from 2001-2011. After 2011 with limited funds, CWD testing in Washington was focused on animals showing clinical signs consistent with the disease.

In 2021, the Washington State Legislature provided funding for WDFW to conduct a CWD Pre-Detection Surveillance Program to test harvested, road-killed, and opportunistically found dead deer in areas of eastern Washington. WDFW is coordinating with federal and other state agencies, tribes, hunting organizations, taxidermists, and meat processors to collect samples to test for CWD. You can read about activities regarding CWD from July of 2021 to June of 2022 in the Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Program annual report.

Please help WDFW monitor the health of cervid populations by getting your harvested or salvaged cervid tested for CWD. Testing information is on the CWD surveillance program page.

Please also report sick animals to your regional WDFW office or use this online reporting form.

If you hunt outside of Washington, please be aware of regulations impacting the transport of deer, elk, and moose carcasses from one state or province to another. You can find carcass import regulations on this map, provided by Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance.

Click on map to enlarge

Carcass importation from other states

New carcass transportation restrictions as of 2022! If you plan to hunt deer, elk, moose, or caribou outside of Washington, there are rules (WAC 220-413-030) regulating how you can bring your meat and trophies home:

To reduce the risk of bringing CWD into Washington, if you harvest deer, elk, moose, or caribou in another state, province, or country, regardless of whether or not CWD is known to be present there, only the following items may be imported to Washington:

Packages of de-boned deer meat
Photo by WDFW
Bare deer skull with antlers
Photo by WDFW
Deer hide without head
Photo by WDFW
Person looking through a microscope at tissue sample
Photo by WDFW
Taxidermy mount of deer head and antlers
Photo by WDFW

 

  1. Meat that has been de-boned in the state or province where it was harvested and is imported as boned-out meat
  2. Skulls and antlers (with velvet removed), antlers attached to the skull plate, or upper canine teeth (bugler, whistlers, ivories) from which all soft tissue has been removed
  3. Hides or capes without heads attached
  4. Tissue imported for use by a diagnostic or research laboratory
  5. Finished taxidermy mounts

Violation of this rule is a gross misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine or one year in jail (RCW 77.15.290).

Mandatory Reporting of CWD-positive test results

If you are notified by another state or provincial fish and wildlife agency that the animal you have harvested has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, you have 24 hours to notify WDFW. Failure to do so is an infraction (RCW 77.15.160).

If you have any questions, please contact WDFW's Wildlife Program at 360-902-2515 or email CWD@dfw.wa.gov.

Health and human safety

CWD has not been found in Washington, and there currently is no scientific evidence of CWD being transmitted from animals to humans. Nonetheless, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against consuming meat from an animal that has tested positive for CWD.

Precautions for handling carcasses

WDFW advises hunters to:

  • Avoid harvesting any animal that appears sick or behaves strangely.
  • Wear disposable gloves while field dressing game.
  • Thoroughly wash hands and equipment after processing carcasses.
  • Avoid consuming parts where the CWD prions accumulate including brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, pancreas, tonsils, and lymph nodes.
  • Avoid cutting through bone, brain, or spinal cord.
  • Disinfect processing tools by soaking in household bleach (>2% free chlorine) at a 40% solution (with water) for a minimum of 5 minutes. Remove any blood or tissue from tools before soaking.
  • Rinse tools after soaking.