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CWD Updates

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) Surveillance Update: January 7, 2019

The 2018 to 2019 program for monitoring CWD in wild cervids is well under way. We detected our first case from the 2018 hunting seasons in early October and things took off from there.

To date we tested over 2300 heads and detected CWD in 147 deer, primarily mule deer males, as well as in one cow elk (preliminary overall prevalence, approximately 6.5%).

The great majority of infected deer came from areas in eastern and east central Alberta in primary watersheds where the disease continues to occur. However, CWD was detected in WMU 252 (north of Mundare) for the first time.

The total number of CWD cases detected in wild deer in Alberta since September 2005 is 1067.

Annually Alberta tests at least 6000 heads for CWD so testing is just getting started. Testing was suspended across the holidays but began again in early January. Heads currently being tested generally were received in the 2nd and 3rd week of November. It is estimated over 3500 more heads will be tested in this year’s program.

Note that most of the head drop-off freezers were removed in December. Any remaining freezers will be removed in early to mid-January. However, hunters can still drop off heads at any Fish and Wildlife office. For further information, see:

Free CWD replacement licences no longer available

The original intent in offering replacement licences was to encourage hunters to return to areas of Alberta where CWD was first detected. However, hunter interest and harvest in the CWD area remains high and free replacement licences are no longer considered necessary.

Initially, very few harvested deer had CWD and thus very few replacement licences were offered. However, with increased prevalence and distribution of CWD, this is no longer the case.

Increasing numbers of hunters with a CWD replacement licence are creating a disproportionate harvest opportunity and advantage over those hunters who must build priority points to access a licence, particularly for antlered mule deer.

CWD occurs in pockets of localized deer, so hunters harvesting from the same small population each year are more likely to harvest an infected deer and gain access to annual free replacement licences. As the number of CWD cases increases over time, the number of replacement licences becomes disproportionate to the number of licences available to individuals who apply for draws, and limits the diversity of opportunity for broader populations of hunters who wish to have that opportunity.

CWD and human health

While there are no known cases of CWD in humans, health authorities recommend precautions. Additional information is available at:

Thank you to hunters, guides and landowners

It is hard to believe we have been tracking this disease in wild deer in Alberta for 20 years. Alberta began CWD hunter surveillance in 1998 and has one of the best continuous datasets documenting the occurrence and patterns of CWD in wild cervids, specifically in prairie/parkland ecosystems. The continued support of hunters, guides and landowners is the basis for the strength of our surveillance data.

The success of the CWD surveillance program relies heavily on participation by hunters, guides, and landowners to ensure a successful harvest that provides heads to be tested. We heartily acknowledge and thank all those who helped make the program so successful and look forward to your continued support.

Attention Hunters!

In order to track chronic wasting disease in our deer populations, submission of deer heads for CWD testing is MANDATORY in eastern Alberta from Cold Lake south to the US border. Submit deer heads for CWD testing during rifle seasons at any of the fifty-one 24-hour freezers in Edmonton, Calgary, and across eastern Alberta.

Note that the deer head drop-off freezers are ONLY available from mid-October to mid-December. However, CWD surveillance in Alberta is a year-round program and suitable deer heads can be submitted for testing at a Fish and Wildlife office throughout the year during office hours. See page 13 of the 2018 Alberta Guide to Hunting Regulations for office locations and phone numbers.

Please also note that for biosafety and logistical reasons, we are unable to return heads to a hunter. If you wish to keep any part of the head or antlers, you should remove it before submitting the remaining portion for CWD testing. Additional information about preparing and submitting heads can be found at:

Note that hunters receive NEGATIVE test results directly at the email address associated with their individual AlbertaRELM account. The email process is the only notification hunters receive when their animal is NEGATIVE for CWD.

As in the past, hunters who harvest a CWD POSITIVE deer are contacted directly by phone (see below).

Patterns of CWD in Alberta

There are significant overall patterns of disease occurrence in Alberta. CWD continues to occur primarily in mule deer in comparison to white-tailed deer despite testing large numbers of both species. Similarly males are more likely to be infected than females.

CWD Annual Prevalence 2010 to 2017
CWD Prevalence 1996 to 2017

Analyses of previous data determined the weighted CWD occurrence in Alberta is:

  • Mule Deer: male 1.00 female 0.4
  • White-tailed Deer: male 0.3 female 0.1

Thus male mule deer are the most likely, and female white-tailed deer the least likely to be infected with CWD.

The geographic distribution of CWD is clustered in some WMUs but continues to expand westward.

The finding of CWD in a moose near the South Saskatchewan River valley in 2012 is the first such case identified in Canada.

Specific information about the CWD hunter surveillance program is provided at:

The CWD Freezer Locations currently posted on the Information for Hunters page has all the correct information for 2018.

  • CWD surveillance is focused on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border; however, hunter-killed deer (and elk) are accepted from anywhere in the province (as in all previous years)
  • Ongoing NEGATIVE test results are made available to individual hunters; when test results are available, the hunter receives an email that provides the negative result
  • Ongoing POSITIVE test results are provided by phone directly to the hunter who harvested the infected deer

2017 Fall CWD Surveillance Results

In 2017/18 we received a total of 6429 heads, of which 6340 were suitable for testing. We detected CWD in 327 animals (5.2% of 6340; up from 3.5% in 2016/17). The positives included 326 deer (281 mule deer, 45 white-tail; 264 males, 62 females) and 1 female elk. As in previous years the majority of cases were mule deer (281 of 327; 86%), particularly mule deer bucks (220 of 327; 67%).

Also as in previous years, species- and gender-specific differences are apparent, although the proportion of infected animals continues to rise in all categories (except moose) (compare to 2016 data):

In the 6340 heads tested, CWD was detected in:

  • 8.2% of 3417 mule deer
  • 1.8% of 2489 white-tailed deer
  • 0.4% of 229 elk (primarily from CFB Suffield)
  • 0 of 198 moose (primarily from CFB Wainwright)

In the 5903 deer for which gender/sex was reported, CWD was detected in:

  • 12.4% of 1778 male mule deer
  • 3.7% of 1639 female mule deer
  • 2.5% of 1739 male whitetails
  • 0.1% of 747 female whitetails

The disease continues to expand westward into central Alberta. It was detected in seven new Wildlife Management Units (WMU) in the Red Deer/South Saskatchewan/Bow watershed (102, 124, 138, 156) and Battle watershed (204, 206, 228). These units are adjacent to previous cases and indicate further geographic spread of CWD westward along major waterways. Of particular note, a cluster of cases was found near Tofield (WMU 242) and CWD was detected well up the Bow River east of Strathmore (southeast WMU 156).

We also detected CWD in a cow elk from WMU 732 (Canadian Forces Base Suffield). Since 2012, we tested 2117 elk from WMU 732 and detected CWD in two (0.1%). However, the disease is well-established in mule deer and white-tailed deer in areas outside the military base along the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan rivers.

To learn more about CWD Surveillance in Alberta, see:

For past CWD surveillance results and a general timeline of CWD in Alberta, see:

CWD Map and Statistics

News Releases and Information Bulletins

 

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Updated: Jan 15, 2019