State says elk will persist in face of CWD
By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.
— July 15, 2014
Wyoming Game and Fish Department said Monday a research paper published in May shows that elk are less susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease than previously thought.
The study shows that it takes longer for the disease to incubate in elk than in deer, due to genes that some elk carry. CWD is an always-fatal malady that scientists fear could wipe out some deer populations.
Some conservationists have said the best way to combat potential widespread CWD infection of Wyoming elk is to stop feeding them in winter. Game and Fish operates more than 20 feedgrounds west of the Continental Divide.
But feedgrounds are a key component in sustaining population numbers that allow hunting. The sale of hunting licenses is the agency’s principal source of revenue.
The paper, published in the Ecological Society of America’s “Ecosphere,” was authored by A.L. Williams, B.A. Schumaker and T.J. Kreeger. Kreeger is a retired wildlife veterinarian for Game and Fish.
“CWD alone was not enough to cause extinction of elk herds that congregate on winter feedgrounds,” the paper said. Further, even in a worst-case scenario, some hunting would still be required to keep elk populations at objective levels, Game and Fish said.
CWD is a malady akin to Mad-cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans. It causes neurological degeneration, but it’s unknown whether it could spread from animals to humans.
“This study model essentially represents the worst-case scenario that would face feedground elk,” Kreeger said in a statement. “We predict a genetic shift over several decades favoring genes that prolong the incubation time of CWD resulting in elk populations that are able to persist in the face of the disease.”
CWD won’t devastate feedground elk said Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the Game and Fish wildlife division.
”It helps to know that based on this research, if CWD should become established on feedgrounds, we won’t see a devastating effect on populations as many have feared,” he said in a statement. “This research also looked at how hunting would affect populations, and it appears, Game and Fish would still need to have hunting seasons to manage elk populations even if faced with CWD on feedgrounds.”
The paper doesn’t address whether hunters would continue to try to kill and eat elk from a herd infected with CWD.
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