ST. GEORGE — Utah Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officers issued a news release reminding hunters who harvest big game animals in states with chronic wasting disease to make sure they are adhering to the laws for transporting the carcasses to prevent chronic wasting disease from further spreading in Utah.
Chronic wasting disease is a relatively rare transmissible disease that affects deer, elk and moose. The disease was first discovered in Utah in 2002 in a buck deer taken during the rifle hunt near Vernal. Currently, 158 mule deer and four elk have tested positive for CWD in Utah. However, it isn’t widespread in the state and is only found in six hunting units in Utah — primarily in a few counties in central, northeastern and southeastern Utah.
The disease is caused by a misfolded protein, called a prion, that accumulates in the animal’s tissue. It is caused by the same type of particle as “mad cow disease” in cows. Infected animals develop brain lesions, become emaciated, appear listless and have droopy ears. They may also salivate excessively and will eventually die.
Infected animals may shed prions in their urine, feces and saliva. Transmission may occur directly through contact with an infected animal or indirectly through environmental contamination. (A dead carcass can contaminate the soil.) Prions are extremely resilient in the environment and can stay infectious for many years.
Because the disease is so contagious and can be transmitted to other animals from pieces of infected dead animals, a state rule was implemented in 2020 that only allows hunters to transport the following parts of a deer, elk, or moose harvested in states with chronic wasting disease back into Utah:
Meat that is cut and wrapped, either commercially or privately
Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached
Meat that is “boned out”
A hide with no head attached
Skulls or skull plates with antlers attached, only if all the brain matter and spinal column material has been removed
Taxidermied heads with no meat or tissue attached
Upper canine teeth
Nonresidents of Utah transporting harvested elk, moose, mule deer or white-tailed deer from chronic wasting disease-affected areas are allowed to transport their animal through Utah if they:
Do not leave any part of the harvested animal in Utah and do not stay more than 24 hours in Utah
Do not have their deer, elk or moose processed in Utah
“Unfortunately, this fall we have had several cases of hunters traveling from other states who are transporting their deer and elk back into Utah without adhering to these transportation rules,” DWR Conservation Officer Morgan Larsen said in the press release. “On Oct. 30 alone, we detected four individuals returning to Utah from areas in Colorado with chronic wasting disease who were in violation of transporting the full heads of deer or elk with the brains still intact.
“All of these individuals planned to dispose of their big game remains in Utah. That is not only illegal, but also poses a threat to our local deer and elk herds. If that brain matter and other animal parts are tossed into the mountains or a field, that brain matter can contaminate the dirt where it was discarded and spread chronic wasting disease to big game animals in that area of Utah.”
Illegally transporting big game carcasses from areas with chronic wasting disease typically results in an infraction, but may become a felony charge if there is evidence to suggest that the illegally transported animal parts spread chronic wasting disease to local big game herds in Utah.