Swift action necessary for wasting disease

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What seemed inevitable finally happened last month when samples taken from white-tailed deer in Northwest Montana came back positive for chronic wasting disease.

This potentially devastating disease was first detected in Montana in 2017. By 2018, wildlife officials had confirmed 26 new cases, mostly along the northern border from Liberty County east to the North Dakota border. Now, the disease has made its way west, taking root in the population of urban deer within Libby’s city limits. It’s the first time the disease has been found in wild ungulates west of the Continental Divide.

The term chronic wasting disease comes from the appearance of stricken animals, which according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, get very skinny and sickly before they die.

The contagious neurological disease that infects deer, elk and moose has no known cure. The disease is slow and always fatal. Large-scale population declines are possible for decades to come if the disease is allowed to spread, wildlife officials warn.

We can’t let this happen, which is why we support Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ plan to take swift and substantial action to eradicate the disease from Libby’s herd. Already an incident command team has been deployed to the area, per state protocol. After calculating the geographic reach of the disease, officials will begin culling the herd in an effort to sample hundreds of deer in and around the urban area.

The general public is encouraged to get involved, as well. People in the Libby area who see a deer that appears to be sick should call 406-291-6539. People should also plan to attend one of Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ public meetings, with the first scheduled for Friday, July 19 at noon in the Ponderosa Room at Libby City Hall. Other meetings are planned for Aug. 2 and 16.

Hunters also need to learn how to recognize infected animals and about what precautions to take when harvesting a deer suspected to have the disease. Details about potential hunting season changes and other regulations related to the disease are expected to be finalized soon.

Make no mistake, the long-term consequences of chronic wasting disease are serious. If left unmanaged, it could wreak havoc not only on Northwest Montana’s ungulate population, but our way of life.

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