North Dakota hunters donated more than 1,500 deer heads that are currently in the process of being tested for chronic wasting disease, according to Jacquie Ermer, wildlife disease biologist for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, Riverdale.

The 2003 Hunter-Harvested Surveillance program established a goal of sampling 1,500 deer in the southern half of the state for CWD. Hunters were asked to assist by stopping at collection sites during the hunting season and provide samples from their deer.

“We need to express our gratitude to hunters and meat processors who cooperated in this effort,” Ermer said. “They really stepped up and showed their concern in wanting to maintain a healthy deer population.”

Samples for CWD testing were sent to the Wyoming State Veterinary Lab. Results should be available within three months, and hunters will be notified only if a sample tests positive.

The state is divided into eight CWD surveillance units. Samples from hunter-harvested deer were taken from animals this fall in five of those areas.

The goal is to obtain 458 samples from animals in each surveillance unit within a two year period, Ermer said. Two units have already filled that obligation. “We were fortunate enough to have collected the necessary samples in two surveillance units in the southeast,” she added. “Since we won’t need samples from those two units next year, we will be able to cover two new areas in the northern half of the state.”

Even though this year’s Hunter-Harvested Surveillance goal has been met, game and fish will continue to monitor and collect suspect deer and elk (Targeted Surveillance), including road-killed animals, Ermer said.

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.