Test results for chronic wasting disease on more than 1,600 wild deer and 29 elk harvested during the 2003 hunting season are negative, according to Jacquie Ermer, wildlife disease biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Samples for CWD testing were sent to the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab last December. Ermer received the news Wednesday morning. “It’s a relief,” Ermer said, “but sampling and testing needs to continue into the foreseeable future before we can determine with any confidence that our deer and elk do not have CWD.”

Samples from hunter-harvested deer were taken from animals last fall in five of the eight CWD surveillance units in the state. Those five units covered mostly the southern half of the state. “The efforts from hunters, meat processors, our staff and other agencies have been tremendous,” Ermer acknowledged.

The goal of the Hunter-Harvested Surveillance program is to obtain a statistically significant sample (458) of animals in each surveillance unit within a two year period, Ermer said. Two units have already filled that obligation, allowing surveillance to expand to new areas for the upcoming hunting season in the northern half of the state.

“We will continue to be aggressive in our monitoring efforts and support for CWD research,” Ermer said, while noting the department will continue to monitor and collect suspect deer and elk, including road-killed animals, throughout the year.

Last fall was the second year of the CWD Hunter-Harvested Surveillance program. During the 2002 hunting season, samples were taken from 470 deer and 25 elk – all tested negative for CWD. To date, CWD has not been diagnosed in wild or farmed deer or elk in North Dakota.

Chronic wasting disease affects the nervous system of white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk and is always fatal. Scientists have found no evidence that CWD can be transmitted naturally to humans or livestock.