Hunter’s help needed to avoid spreading chronic wasting disease

A bull elk suffering from chronic wasting disease. Photo courtesy of Melia Devivo.

With the late deer season wrapping up, a reminder that there are rules on how to safely bring meat and mounts home if you harvest a deer, moose or elk outside of Washington State. These rules are in effect to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) that can infect wild cervids. CWD is always fatal, there is no cure for it, and over time it can severely reduce cervid populations.

“It is important to note that, to date, CWD has not been detected in Washington State,” said Melia DeVivo, ungulate research scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “And it is crucial that we follow regulations that reduce our risk of spreading CWD for the health of our cervid herds.”

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If you hunt in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, only the following items harvested in any of those locations may be imported to Washington:

  • Meat that has been de-boned in the state or province where it was harvested and is imported as boned-out.
  • Skulls and antlers, antlers attached to the skull plate, or upper canine teeth (bugler, whistlers, ivories) from which all soft tissue has been removed.
  • Hides or capes without heads attached.
  • Tissue imported for use by a diagnostic or research laboratory.
  • Finished taxidermy mounts.

Violation of this rule is a gross misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of a $5,000 fine or one year in jail (RCW 77.15.290).

Hunters should also familiarize themselves with the rules and regulations for testing and transporting their harvested animals in the state they hunt in. Several states have their own regulations that help prevent the spread of CWD that should be followed in addition to WDFW’s import rule.

“We appreciate hunters using caution in helping to prevent the spread of this devastating disease,” said DeVivo. “While to date no human has been documented to be infected with CWD, it is also important to take some simple precautions with harvested meat.”

To minimize the risk of CWD exposure, WDFW advises those who eat game meat to:

  • Avoid harvesting any animal that appears sick or is behaving strangely.
  • Wear disposable gloves while field dressing game.
  • Thoroughly wash hands and equipment after processing carcasses.
  • Avoid consuming parts where the CWD prions accumulate including: brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, pancreas, tonsils, and lymph nodes.
  • Avoid cutting through bone, brain or spinal cord.

WDFW has been intermittently looking for evidence of CWD in Washington since 1995. The closest known CWD cases are in western Montana, where it was confirmed in 2017.

Managing CWD has proven difficult due to various obstacles such as lack of a vaccine or treatment for infected animals, the long incubation period without detectable signs of the disease, and the persistence of CWD infectious materials in the environment for many years. There is much more information on CWD on the WDFW website or the CWD Alliance website.




The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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