Addressing Chronic Wasting Disease in California’s Deer and Elk

Chronic Wasting Disease Detected in California: Urgent Action Required
The recent confirmation of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in deer from Madera and Inyo counties marks a critical moment for wildlife conservation in California. As members of the California Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, it is our duty to stay informed and engaged in the efforts to manage and hopefully contain this devastating disease.

CWD is a fatal neurological disorder that affects deer, elk, moose, and reindeer, known collectively as cervids. This disease deteriorates the brain of infected animals, leading to death. There is no known cure or vaccine, and its presence in California poses a significant threat to our hunting traditions and the health of our local ecosystems.

The Impact of CWD and Our Role
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has confirmed the first instances of CWD in our state. This disease has already affected wildlife populations in 34 states and several Canadian provinces, highlighting the potential for widespread impact. Given the long incubation period of the disease, which can be months to years, and the fact that infected animals can shed prions responsible for the disease before symptoms appear, the detection in California suggests that CWD might have been in our environment unnoticed for some time.

Our Immediate Actions
As hunters, we play a crucial role in disease surveillance. Since symptoms such as weight loss, lack of coordination, and behavioral changes might not appear until the final stages of the disease, early detection through testing and monitoring is critical. We urge all members to cooperate with CDFW’s efforts by submitting harvested deer and elk for testing, reporting any unusual behavior in wildlife, and adhering to guidelines designed to prevent the spread of CWD.
Eric Hanson, Co-Chair of the California Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, emphasizes the importance of our involvement: “This is a pivotal moment for us as hunters and conservationists. We must lead by example, participating in CWD monitoring and education efforts. By doing so, we help ensure the health of our wildlife populations and secure the future of hunting in California. Let’s act swiftly and responsibly, showing that our commitment to conservation is as strong as ever.”

Support CDFW’s ‘No Time to Waste’ Campaign -- Get Your Deer or Elk Tested
CDFW’s “No Time to Waste” campaign is an essential part of the statewide response to CWD. We encourage all hunters to learn about this initiative, participate in sampling and testing programs, and spread the word among the hunting community. Awareness and education are key to combating the spread of CWD.

Specifically, hunters can take their deer or elk head to a CDFW sampling station, ask their meat processor or taxidermist to submit a sample to CDFW, or collect and send lymph nodes to CDFW directly. These are important steps to help understand and address CWD in the state, and we encourage all hunters to have their animals tested.

The discovery of Chronic Wasting Disease in California is a serious concern, but it also reinforces the critical role that hunters play in wildlife management and conservation. Let us rise to the challenge, armed with knowledge and a commitment to action. Together, we can strive to manage this disease and preserve our cherished wildlife populations for future generations.

Stay Informed and Get Involved
To learn more about how to get your cervid harvest tested and to stay updated on CWD management efforts, visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website. Reporting sick deer or elk, and having your harvest tested is an important part of wildlife conservation in our state.
About Joel Weltzien

Joel grew up backpacking and river running in rural Montana, and as an adult began hunting and fishing every chance he got. As California's Chapter Coordinator, Joel seeks to advance diverse coalitions in support of BHA's mission in the Golden State.

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