A group of whitetail deer cluster on the edge of a field in December 2016 near Bozeman.

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The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved Thursday a management plan to address chronic wasting disease in deer, elk and moose statewide.

The management plan will involve continued testing of animals displaying symptoms of the disease and will prioritize testing of white-tailed and mule deer. In addition, hunters can now have their game tested for CWD without paying a fee.

Areas targeted for surveillance will also be identified differently. Hunting districts within 40 miles of a hunting district with positive cases of the disease will see more focused testing efforts. FWP hopes to eventually survey every part of the state systematically, according to the plan.

“We’re glad it’s approved,” said Morgan Jacobsen, a spokesperson for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “The plan recognizes CWD is an evolving problem in the state.”

Jacobsen said southwestern Montana will see targeted surveillance this fall, but he still doesn’t know exactly where CWD testing stations will be. Hunters will be able to bring in samples for testing to the FWP regional office in Bozeman, and Jacobsen hopes there will be increased participation from the public.

CWD is a fatal disease that causes organ damage among species in deer, moose and elk. Animals with the disease appear sickly and skinny, and infected animals have been found in 26 states as of 2018.

CWD was first detected in Montana in 2017, and now positive cases have been found in northwestern, southwestern, south central, southeastern, eastern and northern Montana. A white-tailed deer north of Bozeman tested positive for the disease this May. It was the first animal that has tested positive in the area.

According to the plan, if an animal tests positive for CWD in a new area, the FWP can call for a Special CWD Hunt to sample for the “prevalence and spatial distribution of the disease.” Hunters interested in participating in the hunt must obtain a license, and all hunted animals must be brought to check stations.

This is one “tool in the toolbox” FWP now has to monitor the disease, Jacobsen said. A Special CWD Hunt has not yet been called for in Bozeman.

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Helena Dore can be reached at hdore@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

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