An elk harvested in Grand Teton National Park has tested postive for CWD. Photo: Nick Sulzer // Buckrail

JACKSON, Wyo — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s Wildlife Health Laboratory confirmed on Dec. 16 that an elk in Grand Teton National Park tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The cow elk was harvested by a participant in the park’s elk reduction program and tissue samples were collected as part of the park’s mandatory testing program.

This is the first elk to test positive for CWD in northwest Wyoming and in close proximity to elk feedgrounds. There are nine area feedgrounds near Jackson. These feedgrounds provide supplemental feeding but can also be a breeding ground for highly contagious diseases.

Wildlife managers say that while the positive test in an elk raises concern, the positive test result does not come as a surprise based on the steady progression of the disease westward across the state and the positive result for a mule deer in Grand Teton National Park in the fall of 2018. A mule deer also tested positive for CWD in Star Valley in 2016, the Pinedale area in 2017, and two mule deer in the Wyoming Range in 2020.

To date, there have been no cases of CWD in humans and no strong evidence for the occurrence of CWD in people. However, experimental studies raise the concern that CWD may pose a risk to humans and suggest that it is important to prevent human exposure. Therefore, the Game and Fish and National Park Service adhere to the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization that hunters do not consume any animal that is obviously ill or tests positive for CWD.

Intensive CWD surveillance of the Jackson elk herd has been ongoing since 2009. Over 4,500 CWD samples have been collected and tested for the entire Jackson elk herd with more than 1,400 samples collected through the park’s elk reduction program alone, and this is the first elk to test positive. State, federal, and other agencies within the Jackson and Greater Yellowstone area coordinate on efforts to address CWD.

While Game and Fish is actively accepting public comment on state-managed elk feedgrounds,  there is no plan to close any feedgrounds.

To ensure that hunters and the public are informed about CWD, Game and Fish announces when CWD is found in a new hunt area. A map of CWD endemic areas is available on the Game and Fish website.

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.