This fatal deer disease was found in Idaho. Now, Congress wants to help fight it.

Nicole Blanchard, The Idaho Statesman on

Published in Outdoors

An omnibus spending bill passed by Congress late last year will supply funding to research and manage a fatal deer disease that was detected in Idaho for the first time last year.

The $1.7 trillion federal bill, which the U.S. House passed Dec. 23, included a provision to pass the Chronic Wasting Disease Research and Management Act. The legislation had faltered after it was introduced last December as a way to unify state and tribal responses to chronic wasting disease, which is a contagious disease caused by malformed proteins called prions.

Now states like Idaho, which is trying to pinpoint and corral the deadly disease before it continues to spread, have a chance at federal funding to manage chronic wasting disease. The legislation will put $70 million annually for five years toward research on detecting the disease in live animals, suppressing it in infected animals and managing it in wild populations.

What is chronic wasting disease?

Chronic wasting disease is in the same family as mad cow disease. It’s transmissible, affects the brain and spinal cord, and has no treatment.

The disease affects deer species, including whitetail and mule deer, elk and moose. Infected animals often experience neurological symptoms and may stumble or lose coordination in addition to drooling, losing significant amounts of weight and exhibiting no fear of humans.


The illness was first documented in a captive deer in Colorado in the 1960s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was found in wild deer in the 1980s and has spread to 30 states, including Idaho.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has been monitoring for chronic wasting disease since 1997, paying close attention to state borders as cases spread in Montana and Wyoming in recent years. In November 2021, two mule deer bucks killed near Riggins were the first confirmed cases of chronic wasting disease in Idaho. By the end of 2021, Fish and Game had confirmed the disease in five deer and one elk, all from the same area.

Roger Phillips, spokesperson for Fish and Game, told the Idaho Statesman in an email that the agency confirmed chronic wasting disease in 14 deer this year. Those animals were also from the same Slate Creek area near Riggins.

Fish and Game set up a surveillance area and required chronic wasting disease testing for deer, elk and moose killed in Hunt Unit 14, where the infected animals have been found, and neighboring Hunt Unit 15.


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