BISMARCK, North Dakota — A fourth mule deer in five years from southwestern North Dakota has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, but state wildlife officials do not believe it is an indication that the disease is spreading.
The initial testing of the mule deer shot by a hunter in western Grant County was done at Michigan State University. The testing is being verified by a national lab in Ames, Iowa, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department said Monday.
It is the fourth deer killed in the 3F2 hunting unit to test positive for the disease in the past five years. Infected mule deer were killed in 2009, 2010 and 2011, all within a circular area with a diameter of about 15 miles. Two were bucks and two were does.
Another positive test in the same area is not a major cause for concern, said Dan Grove, wildlife veterinarian for Game and Fish.
"Not at this point in time. We didn't have any positives last year. If we had three or four in the same year, that would be somewhat disconcerting," Grove said. "Also, if it had moved farther from the same area, that would be more of a concern."
CWD affects the nervous system of members of the deer family and is always fatal. Scientists have found no evidence that the disease can be transmitted naturally to people or livestock.
Game and Fish has been monitoring for the disease since the early 2000s, testing animals that are found dead or sick and testing tens of thousands of deer heads supplied voluntarily by hunters. More than 22,000 deer, elk and moose have tested negative for CWD through the years, Grove said.
About 200 samples from 3F2 have been tested this year, and about 100 remain to be tested, along with about 700 samples from the rest of the state, according to Grove. Results are expected early next year.
North Dakota until recent years had been somewhat of an island when it came to CWD. The disease had been found in deer and elk populations in many other states and in Canada, but had not been found in North Dakota until 2009. Officials speculated that year that the infected deer might have come from South Dakota, where CWD already was present. The 3F2 hunting unit borders South Dakota.
Game and Fish earlier implemented hunter restrictions in 3F2 to try to prevent the spread of CWD to deer in other areas of the state. Hunters can't transport a carcass containing the head and spinal column outside of the unit unless it is taken directly to a meat processor. If a hunter processes the deer in the field and wants to leave the head behind, it must be legally tagged and its location documented. A baiting ban also is in place.
"Any disease, if you congregate animals artificially, you're potentially spreading the disease," Grove said.
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