CHEYENNE -- As the next step in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s collaborative process to update the chronic wasting disease management plan, the department recently held five public meetings across the state to provide information and hear the public’s thoughts about how to manage the disease in Wyoming.

The meetings, held in Laramie, Casper, Sheridan, Worland, and Pinedale, drew 147 people who engaged in a facilitated dialogue with Game and Fish personnel on their concerns and how to best address them.

“Any successful management for CWD will require a significant commitment from our public, and we were pleased to see such a good turnout at the meetings,” said Mary Wood, Game and Fish state wildlife veterinarian. “It’s critical to continue to have engagement and support from the public as we look towards sustainable management for cervid populations in the face of CWD.”

Wyoming Game And Fish Department

Game and Fish, with the University of Wyoming Ruckelshaus Institute, Haub School of Environmental and Natural Resources, fielded a wide range of questions about the chronic wasting disease, including surveillance, carcass disposal, population management, and education topics.

“The questions that were asked are really important because they give us an idea on how Game and Fish, and the nation, is doing on educating people about CWD,” said Janet Milek, Game and Fish public information specialist in Casper. “The input from these meetings will help us mold future communications, further understanding of the disease, and learn what types of management might be supported by the public.”

In attendance at each meeting were members of the CWD working group, a Game and Fish-appointed team who is charged with making recommendations to update the department’s CWD management plan.

“Working group members who attended are well-versed in the public’s thoughts and will use that information when considering recommendations,” Milek said.

Dr. Matt Kauffman, assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, leads the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit where he and his team of graduate students carry out a wide range of research on elk, moose, wolves, deer, and bighorn sheep. The research unit primarily focuses on migration patterns. He said they haven’t done a lot of work in the area of CWD detection, but he does have concerns.

“Occasionally we work on a herd that’s kind of on that frontier. We partner with the state vet labs to sample those animals. There has been a concern of whether the migratory routes of herds can essentially be a vector of the disease. There is definitely potential there, but that is not a connection that we have made,” said Kauffman.

“Right now, the big concern is whether or not CWD will get into the feed grounds and what the dynamics of the disease will be when that happens. Of course, we have CWD endemically in deer and elk in southeastern Wyoming, and the populations do grow a little less robustly because of the Chronic Wasting Disease, but there are still viable populations, they still produce a harvestable surplus – many people hunt deer and elk in southeast Wyoming.

“But the feed grounds are a little bit of a different situation, with higher densities, and most likely, higher transmission rates as well. It’s the big question: What will happen if CWD gets up into the feed grounds?”

The working group is set to meet monthly in July, August, and September to learn more about CWD and develop outcomes for the plan that are both rooted in science and the public’s input. A draft of the plan will be available for public review and comment in December with another round of five public meetings in Casper, Laramie, Sheridan, Worland, and Pinedale. After the input is integrated by the group in February, the revised draft CWD management plan will be presented to the Game and Fish Commission for their review and approval in March 2020.

For those unable to attend in-person, a recording from the Laramie meeting is available online and anyone can watch and submit comments. All comments from the website will be made available for the working group to read.