By COLLIN GALLANT on September 16, 2020.
Deer season opened in deep southeast Alberta two weeks ago following a dramatic increase in cases of chronic wasting disease being detected last winter.
It also takes place as the province is beginning to develop new mule deer management that will consider how to best limit further spread.
Testing of heads dropped off by hunters in the 2019-20 season saw a near doubling of positive cases of the fatal, degenerative disease that affects deer, elk and moose.
It is also spreading geographically, showing up in 10 new wildlife management zones, including four in the southeast, and areas west of Calgary.
In another first, the disease was detected from a moose sample.
Officials with Alberta Environment and Parks say that’s caused them to shift the program, reducing areas where mandatory drop-off of a sample is required, but boosting resources in some of those areas where the spread is pushing west.
This summer, the province announced that a new committee will revisit deer population strategy that dates to the 1990s. Its mandate is to consider long- and short-term economic factors, the commercial hunting industry and the general health of the deer population
This year, hunters are required to submit heads for testing in most areas nearest to Saskatchewan, from which the spread was first detected in 2005 with four positive cases in Special Areas No. 2
Last year, testing of 10,000 heads province-wide turned up 1,160 positive results, mainly in mule deer.
That’s up from 579 positives from the 2018 harvest, and 327 in 2017.
The recent results also show the disease had spread to 10 new management zones, included areas surrounding Vauxhall, Taber, Vulcan and Wheatland County (Strathmore), as well as areas northeast of Calgary and north central Alberta.
Voluntary submission is still encouraged throughout the province but, submitting all heads is mandatory in zone Nos. 150 and 151, which extend from Hilda to Acadia Valley along the Saskatchewan boundary and west to Jenner, as well as zones north of Oyen.
Only mule deer samples are required in zone Nos. 102 (south of Manyberries), 104 (Milk River), 106 (Foremost), and 112 (Bow Island), among other zones that extend north up the foothills to Red Deer.
SW Sask. program
Saskatchewan is also targeting regions for mandatory testing, and three of seven zones are in the southwest of the province.
Those include areas 2W (surrounding Shaunavon), and Nos. 9 and 10 (which form a triangle from Maple Creek to Leader to near Swift Current).
Heads can be submitted in any zone, but the province’s Environment Ministry hopes to get at least 300 samples in specified zones to better understand prevalence and develop management plans.