A cow elk that was harvested as a part of the Grand Teton National Park’s elk reduction program has tested positive for CWD. This is the first elk to test positive so close to the area’s 23 feeding grounds. This positive test is concerning as it may lead to an increased transmission rate of CWD in the area. This new case came about as a part of Wyoming Game and Fish official’s new plan to work closely with federal agencies in managing elk feeding grounds in Wyoming. This plan was implemented this year. The first part of the plan was to increase CWD testing as well as increasing elk harvest in certain areas. Likewise, the plan calls for increased monitoring of the elk herds while on or near the feeding grounds. Any elk that acts strangely or has CWD symptoms will be culled and removed from the area.
CWD and Feeding Grounds
A 2017 study predicted that CWD would take 5 years to reach a 10% infected rate in the Jackson elk herd. Anything above a 7% infection rate is expected to harm population numbers. However, the study also argued that the area could see an infection rate as high as 23%. On the other hand, researchers note that these models do not count for herd reductions and hunting. Those two tools may slow the spread significantly.
The feeding grounds have been a hot topic issue recently, as roughly 20,000 gather near the feed grounds every year. The concerns are that area will become a transmission hot spot. Future plans about changing the feeding ground are being discussed currently. However, changes to the feeding grounds will be incremental. With so many elk relying on the area as a wintering ground it will take some time to properly disperse them.
Chronic Wasting Disease is a prion disease among deer, elk, moose, and other members of the Cervidae family. It is lethal with no known cure at this time. It is spread through infected body fluids, antler velvet, and prions shed in the environment. A 2004 study found that the disease can remain in the ground and environment for anywhere between 16 months to 4 years. This means it can be a very difficult disease to remove from an area.