California DFG Answers Questions About
Chronic Wasting Disease
With so much news about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a fatal neurological disease that affects deer and elk, hunters are asking the California Department of Fish and Game, “How concerned should I be?” and, after the recent passage of emergency regulations in California, “How does this affect me?”

Below is a list of frequently asked questions and their answers.

“As a deer/elk hunter, how concerned should I be about CWD?”

As of September 2002, there is no evidence that CWD can be spread to humans. The primary concern by wildlife experts is avoiding the spread of CWD to healthy deer and elk herds.

If you hunt deer and elk in California, there is no known cause for concern. The DFG has been sampling California’s deer herds since 1999 and has found no evidence of CWD. As of August 2002, more than 450 brain samples have been collected and tested. All submitted specimens have tested negative for CWD. The Department plans on continuing the CWD Surveillance Program indefinitely and will test at least 300 deer annually. California is considered a "low risk" state for CWD since the ranching of cervids (except for fallow deer) is not allowed, importation of elk is not allowed (banned by the State legislature in the early 1980s), and the importation of any cervid is strictly limited.

If you plan to hunt in one of the states where the disease has been found in wild deer and/or elk, your main concern should be following guidelines established to avoid bringing CWD to California in an infected carcass. CWD has been found in wild cervids in five states (Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Wyoming) and one province (Saskatchewan, Canada). Some states have mandatory testing requirements in areas where the disease has already been identified, and voluntary testing for carcasses taken outside the endemic, or affected, area. Those states will notify hunters of their responsibilities. Be sure to read the literature that accompanies your out-of-state tag.

“Why do the Fish and Game Commission’s emergency regulations allow me to bring a whole carcass into California if it poses a risk?”

The emergency regulations adopted by the Fish and Game Commission on August 30, 2002 allow out-of-state hunters to bring a carcass into California so long as it is taken to a professional meat processor or taxidermist within 72 hours. The intent of this regulation is to minimize the risk of transmitting CWD while allowing hunters some flexibility. It is recommended, however, that hunters bone out the meat and only transport the meat into California.

By requiring that the carcass be processed commercially, we can ensure that unused tissue will be properly disposed of in a commercial landfill. It is important to point out that experts do not yet know how CWD is transmitted. Hunters can do their part to protect California’s deer and elk herds by making sure that the carcass remains — especially the brain, spinal cord, eyes and lymphoid tissue — are not placed where wild deer/elk can come into contact with them.

“After I submit my deer/elk carcass to a commercial meat processor, can I get the head back? I want to preserve the skull/antlers.”

The head can be returned to the hunter so long as the brain tissue has
been removed first.

“Once I bring my deer into California, can I get it tested for

The DFG is currently working with a laboratory to establish a voluntary testing program for interested individuals. The program would likely allow hunters to submit the head for sampling at their own expense. The cost for such a test would likely range between $30-50. The DFG will make an announcement if and when such a test becomes available.

“What about deer harvested in California? Can they be tested for CWD?”

The DFG is continuing its surveillance program to monitor deer in California. If you are interested in volunteering your deer carcass for testing, contact the DFG’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory (WIL) in Rancho Cordova at (916) 358-2790.

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