Chronic Wasting Disease may be centralized in eastern Utah
Chronic wasting disease in deer in Utah appears to be centered in the LaSal Mountains east of Moab and Diamond Mountain north of Vernal, the Division of Wildlife Resources announced Dec. 15.
Final results of an extensive sampling effort by the DWR during this year's deer hunts are now available, and two more deer have tested positive for CWD. Both animals were taken on Diamond Mountain north of Vernal.
Beginning with the state's archery buck deer hunt in August, and ending with the rifle hunt in October, DWR staff collected 3,167 tissue samples from deer.
Most of these samples came from 17 of Utah's 30 hunting units. These 17 units are located across the state and were chosen for extensive sampling because DWR biologists believed they were areas where CWD would be most likely found.
Hunters took most of the deer sampled, while others were hit by cars or were taken in agricultural damage situations.
Eight of the 3,167 samples tested positive for CWD. Four of the deer were taken by hunters on the LaSal Mountains east of Moab, one during the archery hunt and three during the rifle hunt.
Three deer were killed on Diamond Mountain north of Vernal, one during the archery hunt and two (the latest two findings) during the rifle hunt. The eighth deer was killed near Fountain Green because it was damaging crops.
"From our sampling effort, it appears that CWD is not widespread in Utah," said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife biologist with the DWR. "And, the percentage of deer infected in the two eastern Utah areas is very low."
DWR may collect more samples near Fountain Green, in Sanpete County, where the deer which tested positive for CWD was found.
It's the only deer sampled outside the two eastern Utah areas that has tested positive for the disease.
"After we obtained that positive sample, we obtained 547 additional samples from the area, and none of them turned up positive," McFarlane said. "We're deciding now whether we need to obtain additional samples."
DWR officials need only 10 more samples from the San Juan unit in southeastern Utah to draw statistically valid conclusions about how prevalent CWD is in all of the 17 units tested this year.
But according to McFarlane, even without the other 10 samples, the DWR has collected enough samples to be content that CWD is not in the Fountain Green area.
"We're pleased with how the sampling effort turned out," she said. "It tells us CWD isn't widespread in Utah and the infection rate where it is found is very low."
DWR officials will meet this month to start planning sampling efforts for 2004.
Since February 2003, a total of 10 deer in Utah have tested positive for CWD. Five of those deer were killed in the LaSal Mountains, four were taken near Vernal and one was killed near Fountain Green.
CWD attacks the central nervous system of deer and elk and is fatal to animals that contract it.
However, according to the World Health Organization, "There is currently no evidence that CWD in cervidae [deer and elk] is transmitted to humans."