SALT LAKE CITY — Chronic wasting disease in deer in Utah appears to be centered in the LaSal Mountains east of Moab and Diamond Mountain north of Vernal, the Division of Wildlife Resources announced Dec. 15.

Final results of an extensive sampling effort by the DWR during this year’s deer hunts are now available, and two more deer have tested positive for CWD. Both animals were taken on Diamond Mountain north of Vernal.

Summary of findings

Beginning with the state’s archery buck deer hunt in August, and ending with the rifle hunt in October, DWR staff collected 3,167 tissue samples from deer. Most of these samples came from 17 of Utah’s 30 hunting units. These 17 units are located across the state and were chosen for extensive sampling because DWR biologists believed they were areas where CWD would be most likely found. Hunters took most of the deer sampled, while others were hit by cars or were taken in agricultural damage situations.

Eight of the 3,167 samples tested positive for CWD. Four of the deer were taken by hunters on the LaSal Mountains east of Moab, one during the archery hunt and three during the rifle hunt. Three deer were killed on Diamond Mountain north of Vernal, one during the archery hunt and two (the latest two findings) during the rifle hunt. The eighth deer was killed near Fountain Green in central Utah because it was damaging crops.

Conclusions

“From our sampling effort, it appears that CWD is not widespread in Utah,” said Leslie McFarlane, wildlife biologist with the DWR. “And the percentage of deer infected in the two eastern Utah areas is very low.”

An area of concern

One area where the DWR may collect more samples is Sanpete County in central Utah, where a deer that was damaging crops near the city of Fountain Green in August tested positive for CWD. It’s the only deer sampled outside the two eastern Utah areas that has tested positive for the disease.

“After we obtained that positive sample, we obtained 547 additional samples from the area, and none of them turned up positive,” McFarlane said. “We’re deciding now whether we need to obtain additional samples.”

DWR officials pleased with sampling effort

DWR officials need only 10 more samples from the San Juan unit in southeastern Utah to draw statistically valid conclusions about how prevalent CWD is in all of the 17 units tested this year. “Even if we can’t obtain those 10 samples, we’ve obtained enough to be almost certain that we don’t have CWD in that unit,” she said.

2003 CWD sampling effort

“We’re pleased with how the sampling effort turned out,” McFarlane said. “It tells us CWD isn’t widespread in Utah and the infection rate where it is found is very low.”

Further sampling

DWR officials will meet this month to start planning sampling efforts for 2004. “One thing I know we’ll do is sample the three units where CWD was found this year, to learn whether the infection rate in those units has increased,” McFarlane said. “There’s also a good chance will do extensive sampling in southwestern Utah. We didn’t obtain many samples from units in those areas this year.”

Background

Since February 2003, a total of 10 deer in Utah have tested positive for CWD. Five of those deer were killed in the LaSal Mountains, four were taken near Vernal and one was killed near Fountain Green.

CWD attacks the central nervous system of deer and elk and is fatal to animals that contract it. However, according to the World Health Organization, “There is currently no evidence that CWD in cervidae [deer and elk] is transmitted to humans.”