Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is proposing a special two-month mule deer hunt in south central Montana near where two bucks – which later tested positive for chronic wasting disease, or CWD – were killed earlier this fall. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to decide Dec. 7 on the proposed hunt, which is designed to gauge the prevalence of CWD in the area.
CWD is a progressive, fatal disease affecting the central nervous system of mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk and moose. It is a slow-moving disease. However, left unmanaged, it could result in long-term population declines within affected herds.
The hunt is part of the department's CWD response plan and a necessary step to determine the spread of the disease in the area where it was detected. Final approval for the hunt rests with the commission.
The hunt, proposed by FWP's CWD incident command team, is in draft form because final CWD testing results from samples taken during the general big-game season won't be available until around Dec. 6. More positive results could lead to an expansion of a hunt area, or the creation of a separate hunt area altogether.
Under the current proposal, the hunt area will include the eastern portion of hunting district 520 southeast of Red Lodge; portions of HD 502 northwest of Belfry and east of Bridger, and the western portion of HD 510. The southern boundary of the hunt area is the Wyoming border. FWP will set exact details on the hunt area boundaries, pending final test results, in time for the commission meeting.
Here are some details included in the proposed CWD hunt:
· The hunt will be referred to as the "Bridger" CWD hunt because of its proximity to the town of Bridger.
· The hunt will be split into two sessions – Dec. 15, 2017, through Jan. 14, 2018 and Jan. 14 to Feb. 15, 2018.
· Special "B" deer licenses for the hunt will go on sale Dec. 11 at all license dealers, online and at FWP offices.
· Only special "B" licenses will be valid for the hunt. Unfilled licenses from the 2017 general big-game season are not valid during the CWD hunt.
· FWP will sell 500 licenses for each of the two season segments. Of those, 100 will be either-sex tags while 400 will be for antlerless animals only. Licenses will cost $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents.
· In Montana, a person may hold a maximum of seven deer "B" licenses per year. During the Bridger CWD hunt, a person may purchase up to seven special licenses, only one of which may be for either sex. Any hunter who purchased "B" deer licenses during the general season must subtract the number of general-season licenses from the seven allowed for the special hunt. If a person bought two "B" licenses during the general season, for example, he may purchase only five licenses for the special hunt.
· Licenses go on sale Dec. 11 on a first-come, first-served basis at all license dealers, online and at FWP's regional offices. All hunters must download a special CWD hunt packet atfwp.mt.gov/CWD
· Hunters must bring all harvested animals to FWP for tissue sampling. Those samples will determine whether the animal was infected with CWD.
· A CWD hunt check station will operate at the rest area north of Bridger. Animals also may be sampled at FWP's Region 5 office in Billings.
· A transport restriction zone (TRZ) will be established and include all of Yellowstone and Carbon Counties. Whole carcasses of deer harvested within the hunt area will not be allowed out of the TRZ. Essentially, this means the deer will need to be boned out or processed before being removed from the TRZ.
· The special CWD hunt does not grant hunter access to any private land. Hunters must always get landowner permission to hunt private land.
· A total of about 370 deer will need to be harvested and sample within the hunt area to determine disease prevalence.
Once that number is reached, the hunt will end.
"This is a different scenario than a typical hunt," said Barb Beck, Region 5 supervisor and CWD incident commander. "We need to harvest animals to get samples to determine disease prevalence. Participating hunters and landowners will be helping with a critical wildlife disease management effort."
"To make this hunt successful we'll need the participation of hunters and landowners alike," Beck said. "We want to make sure hunters understand what this hunt is, what the rules are and where it's going to take place."
The public will be allowed to comment on the hunt during the Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting Dec. 7.
For more information, email CWDresponse@mt.gov