By Associated Press - Wednesday, January 22, 2020

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - Cases of chronic wasting disease are growing significantly in North Dakota’s deer herd with eight additional cases discovered after the fall deer hunt, wildlife officials said.

The state Game and Fish Department said that brings the number of confirmed cases in hunted deer to 24 since 2009, when CWD was first found in the state.

CWD is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It results in emaciation and death and can lead to long-term population declines if left unchecked.

Infected deer have been found in south central, west central and northwestern North Dakota hunting units. It was not detected in any deer harvested in eastern North Dakota.

No elk or moose in the state have tested positive.

“Overall, we could probably live with these current infection rates long-term, but they suggest an upward trend and we’ve certainly seen an expansion in the known distribution of the disease,” Charlie Bahnson, a department wildlife veterinarian. “We need to continue to try to limit the spread within our herds as best as we can.”

The state bans baiting in infected hunting units and some neighboring units and restricts movement of deer parts from those units and other states where CWD is present.

North Dakota had been free of CWD despite being nearly surrounded by states and Canadian provinces where the disease was in wild or captive deer, according to the Chronic Wasting Disease Alliance. The state’s first case was confirmed in a deer shot by a hunter in fall 2009 in south central North Dakota.

Bahnson said only about 15% of hunters submit heads for testing in areas where CWD has been found, meaning the infection rate is likely higher than the raw number of animals suggests.

Wildlife officials will be discussing control efforts and whether any more measures are warranted, state Wildlife Chief Jeb Williams said.

Deer hunting is an industry worth tens of millions of dollars to the state. Each resident deer hunter spends about seven days in the field, spending on average about $136 each day. Nonresident hunters average about five days afield and spend $226 daily, according to state Tourism Division data.

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