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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


CONTACT - Pat Jamieson, Outdoor Recreation Planner, (406) 644-2211, ext 207

National Bison Range Elk Herd shows no sign of CWD

During the weeks of October 14-18 and December 15-19, 2003 the National Bison Range collected and tested a sample of the Refuge’s elk for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and general health. At this time, no lands in the National Wildlife Refuge System are known to have wildlife affected by CWD. However, the national scope and increasing visibility of this wildlife disease, combined with Service responsibilities for wildlife resources that span State and Federal jurisdiction, make it essential that the Service collaborate with the State of Montana and other agencies in addressing CWD.

The Bison Range removed 72 elk for testing. Removal was spread throughout the Refuge, both to get a representative sample and to lessen the impact on any single segment of the elk herd. Care was taken not to overlyimpact those elk that, because of their proximity to public drives, have been popular subjects for wildlife observation and photography. Staff took brain and lymph node samples for CWD testing as well as blood for other health assessments from all animals. CWD was not detected in any of the samples. In addition, 8 elk underwent more extensive testing to screen for other potential wildlife diseases. Some of these tests are still pending. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes assisted the Refuge by taking half of the sampled carcasses; processing them for meat and holding them until CWD results were returned. The Service processed the remaining carcasses for meat through a USDA inspected slaughter plant and held them until CWD test results were received. That meat was donated to public schools and senior citizen’s centers in Lake and Sanders Counties.

This special testing will help the Refuge in managing the total elk herd. Since the Bison Range is completely fenced, wildlife numbers are managed to make sure populations don’t exceed levels the habitat can support. In the past, when the elk populations increased above the population objective, they were trapped live and transplanted to other Federal, State or Tribal lands to establish or supplement herds. Because of national, regional and state concerns about CWD, translocations of deer and elk from one location to another are generally prohibited unless the source herd is known free from CWD. This sampling was designed to establish baseline information on CWD status at the NBR. The Service anticipates that monitoring and surveillance for CWD will be a long-term commitment in cooperation with the CWD surveillance plan being implemented by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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