Alberta Fish and Wildlife officer Byron Jensen said these discoveries are close to the southern border of Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 160, which comes up to Drumheller.
CWD is a prion disease that infects members of the deer family, and is always fatal. While there is no risk to livestock or humans, once it is established it is difficult to control.
In 2005, the first case of CWD in wild mule deer was discovered near Acadia Valley. The province stepped up its surveillance, and through culls and hunter cooperation, began testing killed animals along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border. Hunters in the area were required to submit the heads of their prey to be tested and coordinates as to where it was killed. Jensen said it has been established that the Red Deer River is a movement corridor for deer and the disease.
“It is known that one of the infected areas is the Red Deer River area, and it only makes sense it is going to keep working its way down the river, and now the furthest west are the Dinosaur Park positives,” said Jensen.
He said this year’s numbers mimic previous seasons when Fish and Wildlife were doing active hunts, a practice they have forgone about three years ago for distributing more tags to hunters. This indicates the numbers may be rising.
He says monitoring is taking place in the CWD Zones including WMU 152, which borders WMU 160. The Red Deer River passes between the two zones at the Finnegan Ferry. In these areas head submission is mandatory.
“As the crow flies from where those last positives were found, you are 40 miles from the Finnegan Ferry,” said Jensen.
“It is possible that the hunter head submission may be required in WMUs further west, which includes 160. We’ll see in the next year or two if that becomes a reality.”
He said the best way to manage the disease is to manage the populations. However even if they thin the populations, transmission can occur, especially in the cooler months.
Jensen said in a prairie region, most of the habitat coverage is in the river valley, and in the winter, deer tend to congregate where there is shelter. As the populations crowd, the risk of transmission rises.
“The deer are fairly well dispersed in the summer, but once winter rolls around the deer head to the Red Deer River Valley,” said Jensen.
The harshness of the past winter, however, may have a positive effect on controlling the populations.
“Maybe this bad winter will cull out the sick and injured deer like it typically does, and maybe it will cause a lot of the CWD infested deer to die,” said Jensen. “At the end of the day nature might be the best bet as opposed to hunters (culling them).”