A decade ago, North Dakota still did not have its first documented case of chronic wasting disease in a wild deer.

However, since every bordering state or province had at that time documented CWD in wild or farmed deer herds, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department had already adopted its first rules and regulations designed to reduce the likelihood the disease would spread into the state. Hunters were not allowed to transport into North Dakota the whole carcass, or certain carcass parts, of deer or elk from areas within states or provinces with documented occurrences of CWD in wild populations and private game farms.

Chronic Wasting Disease

(Photo courtesy NDGF)​

In addition, already starting in 2002, Game and Fish biologists were testing hunter-harvested deer, elk and moose to try to detect the disease if it was present.

Eventually, the disease was discovered in North Dakota, in a mule deer buck taken in unit 3F2 west of the Missouri River during the 2009 hunting season. Since then seven more deer, all in unit 3F2 as well, were determined to have CWD, from among thousands of hunter-harvested deer heads tested for the disease.

While the number of deer that have tested positive for CWD remains low, Game and Fish has continued to adjust regulations to address potential spread of the disease.

Hunters harvesting a big game animal this fall in deer unit 3F2 cannot transport the carcass, containing the head and spinal column, outside of the unit unless it's taken to a meat processor within five days of the harvest date. The head can be removed from the carcass and transported outside of the unit if it is to be submitted to the Game and Fish Department for CWD surveillance purposes, or to a licensed taxidermist.

If the deer is processed in the field to boned meat, and the hunter wants to leave the head in the field, the head must be legally tagged and the hunter must be able to return to or give the exact location of the head if requested for verification.

The governor's proclamation relating to chronic wasting disease also includes a provision that prohibits hunting big game over bait on both public and private land in deer unit 3C west of the Missouri River, and all of units 3E1, 3E2, 3F1 and 3F2.

Across the entire state hunters are prohibited from transporting into or within North Dakota the whole carcass, or certain carcass parts, of deer, elk, moose or other members of the cervid family from areas within states and provinces with documented occurrences of CWD in wild populations, or from farmed cervid operations within states and provinces that have had farmed cervids diagnosed with CWD. Only the following portions of the carcass can be transported:
  • 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 has been boned out.
  • Hides with no heads attached.
  • Clean (no meat or tissue attached) skull plates with antlers attached.
  • Antlers with no meat or tissue attached.
  • Upper canine teeth, also known as buglers, whistlers or ivories.
  • Finished taxidermy heads.
A complete listing of the states, or parts of states, where these transport regulations apply is available on the Game and Fish website at gf.nd.gov.

These regulations, both in North Dakota and other states, give hunters the opportunity to continue to hunt in these areas, while at the same time addressing concerns related to CWD spreading to other areas.

Leier is a biologist for the Game and Fish Department.