RAPID CITY, S.D.—As South Dakota hunters prepare for deer and elk hunting seasons, the S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Department is getting ready for another round of testing for chronic wasting disease.

Surveillance for CWD takes place in South Dakota counties where elk and deer have been discovered with the disease. Those areas include the Black Hills, and Fall River, Custer and Pennington counties.

“We are monitoring the prevalence of the disease in these areas to see if CWD is becoming more common,” says GFP Big Game Biologist Steve Griffin. “There are no known human health risks involved with this disease, so we are concentrating on determining the consequences for wildlife populations.”

Hunters who receive a license for one of the counties in the CWD surveillance area will be notified by mail by the Game, Fish and Parks Department with details concerning participation, drop-off points and testing procedures. Hunters who participate by submitting a deer or elk head will be notified about the results of the test.

“Hunter participation is the key to the success of such a large-scale surveillance project,” Griffin said. “Their effort shows that hunters are concerned about protecting the natural resources in this state.”

During last year’s surveillance, a total of 15 deer and four elk were found to have the disease. Since 1997, 54 deer and 23 elk have tested positive for CWD in South Dakota. During that time, more than 17,400 animals have been tested for the disease.

CWD is a fatal brain disease found in both captive and free-ranging elk and deer. In the disease’s late stages, infected animals become emaciated, behave abnormally, lose control of muscles and other bodily functions and die.

Anyone who spots an elk or deer showing signs of CWD should report it. “If you see an animal displaying signs of CWD, please contact the Game, Fish and Parks Department,” Griffin said. “It doesn’t matter what time of year it is or where in the state the animal is located, if it’s displaying signs of CWD, we’ll try to get it tested.”

For more information about the CWD surveillance program, contact the GFP Regional Office in Rapid City at (605) 394-2391 or visit the department’s Web site.

South Dakota’s effort is part of the National CWD Surveillance Program with testing for the disease taking place at the diagnostic lab at South Dakota State University, Brookings. Hunters who want deer from outside of the surveillance areas tested for the disease should contact the diagnostic lab directly.