State says elk will persist in face of CWD

By Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

— July 15, 2014

Wyoming Game and Fish Department said Monday a research paper published in May shows that elk are less susceptible to Chronic Wasting Disease than previously thought.

The study shows that it takes longer for the disease to incubate in elk than in deer, due to genes that some elk carry. CWD is an always-fatal malady that scientists fear could wipe out some deer populations.

Some conservationists have said the best way to combat potential widespread CWD infection of Wyoming elk is to stop feeding them in winter. Game and Fish operates more than 20 feedgrounds west of the Continental Divide.

But feedgrounds are a key component in sustaining population numbers that allow hunting. The sale of hunting licenses is the agency’s principal source of revenue.

The paper, published in the Ecological Society of America’s “Ecosphere,” was authored by A.L. Williams, B.A. Schumaker and T.J. Kreeger. Kreeger is a retired wildlife veterinarian for Game and Fish. 

“CWD alone was not enough to cause extinction of elk herds that congregate on winter feedgrounds,” the paper said. Further, even in a worst-case scenario, some hunting would still be required to keep elk populations at objective levels, Game and Fish said.

CWD is a malady akin to Mad-cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans. It causes neurological degeneration, but it’s unknown whether it could spread from animals to humans.

“This study model essentially represents the worst-case scenario that would face feedground elk,” Kreeger said in a statement. “We predict a genetic shift over several decades favoring genes that prolong the incubation time of CWD resulting in elk populations that are able to persist in the face of the disease.”

CWD won’t devastate feedground elk said Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the Game and Fish wildlife division.

”It helps to know that based on this research, if CWD should become established on feedgrounds, we won’t see a devastating effect on populations as many have feared,” he said in a statement. “This research also looked at how hunting would affect populations, and it appears, Game and Fish would still need to have hunting seasons to manage elk populations even if faced with CWD on feedgrounds.”

The paper doesn’t address whether hunters would continue to try to kill and eat elk from a herd infected with CWD.

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)...

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  1. Two liberals complaining about a government agency, must be a slow news day……..G&F has been mismanaged for years………Sage Grouse, Wolves, Bears, Mussels, Mountain Lions…….what was once a government agency run with the public/wildlife in mind as become yet another bloated government bureaucracy.

  2. I’m puzzled many times over by this reversal in policy dogma towards the apparition of CWD creeping towards the feedgrounds and elk herd range.

    The prions that cause CWD are incredibly patient pseudo-pathogens. They can remain viable in the environment for decades or even hundreds of years. They are for the most part unstoppable. Deformed proteins and no different than proper proteins. How do you counterattack a prion ? I’m sorry , but shifting policy from urgency into denial is not the way to go here.

    By the way , Game and Fish gurus, you already do have one very effective tool in your toolbox to control the spread of CWD 24/7/365. It’s called the Grey Wolf. Let the wolves do what wolves were designed to do…cull herds of the weaker animals. Human hunters can’t even begin to be as efficient as wolves in doing real wildlife conservation and the necessary ecological work.

    Will I even live long enough to EVER hear the words comes from the mouth of a Wyoming Game and Fish person , that ” Wolves have a positive value in wildlife management ” ? – because they do.

  3. After decades of G&F ignoring warnings that CWD will someday hit and devastate the elk herds in the feeding grounds, now they’ve come up with a speculative “science” paper that says, “Oh, it won’t be as bad as some think.”
    Really? That’s all G&F has now?
    That’s gonna look pretty lame as dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of elk stumble and drool around the feed grounds in future years, as the ungulate version of “Walking Dead.” Elk hunting will virtually end in western Wyoming.