Chronic wasting disease hunter surveillance program cut in Saskatchewan
Recently, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment indicated they have discontinued funding for the chronic wasting disease (CWD) hunter surveillance program in the province. The funds were used to collect and test hunter shot deer for the presence of CWD. With this program hunters were able to submit heads from deer, elk and moose to Regional Environment offices throughout the province, or to designated collection stations, and then the heads were forwarded to the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre at the Veterinary College in Saskatoon where tissues were tested for CWD. Hunters were able to access their test results on the internet using a unique number given to them at the time the heads were submitted. Some hunters discarded meat from animals that tested positive for CWD, while others did not, in spite of the fact that the World Health Organization, and many other public health agencies, recommends not eating any animals with a prion disease such as CWD. For the upcoming 2013 season hunters can still have their animals tested by submitting heads to Prairie Diagnostic Services (PDS) in Saskatoon; the cost for testing will be approximately $120.00. The cost and inconvenience to hunters of submitting heads to PDS will prevent most hunters from getting their deer and elk tested.
The hunter surveillance program has been used to track the geographic spread of CWD and its change in prevalence over time. This surveillance data was used by several researchers in Saskatchewan and Alberta to try and understand factors affecting the spread and transmission of CWD. As well, surveillance data was being used to evaluate the long term effects of CWD on cervid populations and to identify areas of high CWD prevalence which could be studied and potentially managed. A recent research publication from the state of Illinois has reported declines in CWD prevalence through the use of targeted herd reduction suggesting management options are available. Further research on managing CWD is required but hunters, landowners and wildlife departments will need to make long term commitments to these programs. Although no reasons have been given for the funding cuts, declining rates of participation by hunters in the surveillance program may have been a deciding factor. It is difficult to sustain interest in long-term programs such as these, which involve a complex disease with uncertainty of risks and outcomes, and, as of yet, lack a clear program to manage the disease. As well, unfortunately, some people have placed their faith in development of a vaccine for CWD. Although tests of a Canadian made vaccine for CWD are underway in Wyoming there are no guarantees of its efficacy and, even if it is effective, there are huge hurdles in using it to manage disease in wild populations.
A recent media report providing an overview of the issues surrounding CWD and the situation in Wisconsin can be found at http://www.rivertowns.net/event/article/id/38779/publisher_ID/13/.