Whitetail Deer

A white-tailed deer walks through the woods along Springhill Road on Tuesday in Bozeman.

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State officials have found signs that an always-fatal wildlife disease is in Gallatin County.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced Tuesday that test results identified a white-tailed deer found in the Springhill area north of Bozeman as being “suspect” for carrying chronic wasting disease.

The buck was killed earlier this month after it was found showing common symptoms of the disease, including looking skinny and weak.

It’s the first detection of the disease in Gallatin County, and its arrival has seemed inevitable to those who have watched CWD show up in new places over the past few years.

“We knew it was going to get here eventually,” said Morgan Jacobsen, a spokesman for FWP.

First found in Montana in 2017, CWD affects the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose. It’s spread through direct contact between the animals, and it has caused declines in wildlife populations in some places. The disease has not been shown to infect humans, but federal health officials advise against eating meat from infected animals.

FWP ramped up testing soon after the disease was first found southeast of Bridger, near the border with Wyoming. It’s now been detected in different places across the state and in all the species it affects.

About 7,000 animals were tested for the disease last hunting season, and it showed up in a number of new places that were far from any confirmed reservoirs of the disease, including the Ruby Valley in southwestern Montana.

“After last year, we shouldn’t be surprised when CWD shows up anywhere in Montana,” said Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation.

FWP officials have been reviewing testing data from last hunting season and are working on a management plan for the coming hunting season. Officials have rotated surveillance testing around the state since 2017, and FWP was set to focus those efforts in southwest Montana this year.

Jacobsen said it’s likely there will be testing stations in the Ruby Valley, but he couldn’t say yet if there would be greater testing efforts near Bozeman after this week’s announcement.

The buck lived along the East Gallatin River, a common haunt for the valley’s decent whitetail population. Jacobsen said a landowner noticed the symptoms in the deer over a period of about three weeks and called it in to FWP.

FWP’s veterinary staff found the deer and saw the same symptoms. They euthanized it on May 5. Its lymph nodes were sent to Colorado State University for testing.

Jacobsen said the deer’s initial test results turned up positive and that the state is waiting on a final confirmation. No animal in Montana that has been deemed suspected of having the disease has ended up testing negative.

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Michael Wright can be reached at mwright@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2638.

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