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Here's Why Montana is Taking Action Against CWD, Despite Tight Funds


State resources are very limited, but Montana is still carefully monitoring Chronic Wasting Disease.

Chronic wasting disease, often abbreviated CWD, is a major threat to deer and elk populations, as it's present in just over half of the continental U.S.

Officials in the state of Montana are doing their level-headed best to monitor chronic wasting disease in the wildlife population in the state. However, they are doing so with few resources at their disposal, and they have to be creative in how they monitor the disease.

While budget cuts are lauded by some regardless of what program is deprived of funding, the Montana FWP (Fish, Wildlife and Parks) department has had to conduct CWD testing on a shoestring budget. Federal funds normally earmarked for testing, according to the Sydney Herald, were cut in 2012, and as a result, they can only test what are deemed high-risk areas or animals that appear symptomatic.

As a result, testing is done at regional offices, as staff from the FWP lab in Bozeman, Mont. travel to high-risk areas and convert local offices into makeshift labs. They also train local personnel to gather samples.

Despite the limited resources, Montana has had fantastic luck regarding CWD. Only one case has been confirmed in the state, which was discovered in 1999.

The Looming Threat of CWD

CWD is a looming threat over deer and elk populations throughout the United States. It's present in Utah and Wyoming, and populations in those states are beginning to decline, according to the Spokesman Review of Spokane, Wash.

Federal wildlife researcher Mike Samuel told that publication that CWD was likely to spread to Montana and Idaho within a decade.

CWD is already confirmed in Yellowstone National Park, which borders both Idaho and Montana.

On the other side of Montana, there have been limited cases confirmed in North Dakota, according to KFGO, a Fargo-area CBS Radio affiliate, and in Wisconsin. Samuel anticipates population declines in Wisconsin similar to those in Wyoming within a decade as well.

Spongiform Encephalopathy, akin to Mad Cow Disease

CWD is a spongiform encephalopathy, essentially the same disease as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a.k.a. "Mad Cow Disease" in cattle. In humans, it's called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.

The disease is caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which accumulate in the central nervous system and cause the brain stem and spinal cord to degenerate into sponge-like tissue. It causes various neurological symptoms including weight loss, massive shedding of fur, loss of motor control and ambulatory function and finally death as infected animals lose the ability to feed themselves.

Many infected animals die of pneumonia, in a similar fashion to some dementia patients. As the ability to swallow declines, massive drooling commences. Eventually, they lose the ability to swallow altogether and aspirate saliva, causing pneumonia, which invariably proves fatal.

Prions are known to be transmittable through excreta such as saliva, urine and feces. The prions may be transmittable through water. It is suspected, though not fully confirmed, that CWD is transmittable to humans through infected meat, though there are no known cases of death from CWD due to eating infected venison.

In Montana, the FWP will continue their testing as best they can, as will biologists in other states. Hunters who suspect they've taken a deer, elk or moose suffering from CWD are encouraged to have the animal tested, and not to eat any meat from the carcass if infection is confirmed.

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Here's Why Montana is Taking Action Against CWD, Despite Tight Funds