Wildlife officials have reported an unexpected growth of chronic wasting disease in North Dakota‘s deer population.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department announced that the disease continues to accelerate at a speed that officials assumed would come about years from now. The NDGF said that 18 deer tested positive for the deadly disease from last fall’s hunt. That’s an increase of six compared to the 12 positive cases in 2019.
Since 2009, wildlife officials have discovered a total of 44 deer with chronic wasting disease. However, 30 of the 44 cases have occurred in the last two years alone. Game and Fish Wildlife veterinarian Charlie Bahnson says the increase is concerning, according to an Associated Press report.
“As we approach that exponential phase, that’s absolutely a cause for concern,” Bahnson explained. “Unfortunately, the pattern that’s been observed in other parts of the country, that rate of acceleration starts to increase.”
Chronic wasting disease infects animal’s nervous system and has been a problem in other areas of North America for years. Officials have found the disease in deer, elk, and moose in 24 states and two Canadian provinces, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.
“I think in a perfect world, we maybe thought we would be seeing this kind of increase many years down the road,” Bahnson added. “It’s not unexpected, but we had hoped that it would be years and years before we reached that increase.”
Chronic Wasting Disease Continues to Spread
Now that 24 states and two provinces in Canada have reported positive cases of chronic wasting disease in their wildlife, officials are showing increased concerns over the matter. Once the disease becomes prominent in an area, it can impact the environment for years to come.
During the December holiday season, an elk in Grand Teton National Park tested positive. Many called for Congress to act by funding further research and testing since the disease can possibly impact other animals in contact with elk and deer.
The CDC reported that chronic wasting disease is less common in free-range elk and deer. Yet captive deer can suffer infection rates upwards of 79%.
The United States Geological Study shared a map of the current outlook for the disease. It highlights areas where the disease is free-ranging, in a captive facility, or in a depopulated captive facility. The disease seems to be most prominent in states that include Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Even though it seems to be most prevalent in central and southwestern areas of the nation, it is gradually spreading further than expected. For example, Pennsylvania is one of the only Eastern states to report positive cases of the disease.