Big Sky Connection
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Allowing predators such as wolves to flourish might be a more effective way to eliminate Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk, according to one wildlife specialist. (Ellie Attebery/Flickr)
January 10, 2018
HELENA, Mont. - Montana is wrestling with the best way to manage Chronic Wasting Disease among deer, elk, and moose.
One wildlife specialist maintains preserving predators is the answer.
Under its current plan, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has set up survey hunts of deer to determine where hotbeds of CWD are located.
The state's second survey hunt in north central Montana began last weekend and lasts through Feb. 15.
But Norman Bishop, a retired wolf interpreter at Yellowstone National Park who has studied wolves for decades, says protecting predators could be a better solution for eliminating the neurological disease.
"Not just wolves but also, mountain lions have been shown to be pretty effective at selecting and taking prey that's disadvantaged or disabled, and that includes those with CWD," he points out.
Bishop says a number of studies confirm that wolves and mountain lions are able to detect diseased prey, even animals that aren't visibly sick to humans.
He says the steep decline in predators likely is one reason CWD is taking hold in the region.
Bishop says with the controlled hunts, Montana is following Wisconsin's path to try to eliminate CWD - a campaign that ultimately cost that state $27 million.
"It simply didn't work," he points out. "And so, you simply have to doubt that any similar effort using hunters will be effective, based on Wisconsin's experience."
Bishop adds the three-week processing time to determine if any of the hunted deer have CWD is another barrier that natural predators don't face. He suggests more education about the benefits of protecting predator species like wolves could make their recovery more palatable to the public.