SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Recent violations have prompted Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials to inform hunters on how to prevent chronic wasting disease — a relatively rare but highly contagious transmissible disease that affects deer, elk and moose.

DWR officials are asking hunters who harvest big game animals to make sure they are adhering to the laws regarding the transportation of carcasses.

Chronic wasting disease was first discovered in Utah in 2002. The case was reportedly found in a buck deer taken during the rifle hunt near Vernal.

Fast forward to today — 158 mule deer and and four elk have tested positive have currently tested positive for the disease in Utah. The disease has been found in six hunting units, mainly in central, northeastern, and southeastern Utah counties.

As far as the disease itself, it is reportedly extremely contagious, and can be transmitted to other animals from pieces of infected dead animals. It is caused by a “misfolded protein” called a prion, which accumulates in animal tissue, according to the DWR. Officials said it is caused by the same type of particle as “mad cow disease.”

Infected animals reportedly develop brain lesions, become emaciated, appear “listless,” and have droopy ears, according to the DWR. “They may also salivate excessively and will eventually die,” a release states.

These animals may reportedly shed prions in their urine, feces, or saliva, and transmission could happen directly through contact with the animal or indirectly through environmental contamination. For example, a dead carcass could contaminate the soil, according to the DWR.

“Prions are extremely resilient in the environment and can stay infectious for many years,” the release states.

“Unfortunately, this fall we have had several cases of hunters traveling from other states who are transporting their deer and elk back into Utah without adhering to these transportation rules,” DWR Conservation Officer Morgan Larsen said. “On Oct. 30 alone, we detected four individuals returning to Utah from areas in Colorado with chronic wasting disease who were in violation of transporting the full heads of deer or elk with the brains still intact. All of these individuals planned to dispose of their big game remains in Utah. That is not only illegal, but also poses a threat to our local deer and elk herds. If that brain matter and other animal parts are tossed into the mountains or a field, that brain matter can contaminate the dirt where it was discarded and spread chronic wasting disease to big game animals in that area of Utah.” 

A state rule was reportedly put in place in 2020, only allowing hunters to transport the following parts of a deer, elk, or moose harvested in states with chronic wasting disease back into Utah:

  • Meat that is cut and wrapped, either commercially or privately.
  • Quarters or other portions of meat with no part of the spinal column or head attached.
  • Meat that is “boned out.”
  • A hide with no head attached.
  • Skulls or skull plates with antlers attached, only if all the brain matter and spinal column material has been removed.
  • Taxidermied heads with no meat or tissue attached.
  • Upper canine teeth.

Nonresidents of Utah transporting harvested elk, moose, mule deer or white-tailed deer from chronic wasting disease-affected areas are allowed to transport their animal through Utah if they do not leave any part of the harvested animal in Utah and do not stay more than 24 hours in Utah, as well as do not have their deer, elk or moose processed in Utah, according to the DWR.

While illegally transporting big game carcasses from areas with chronic wasting disease typically results in an infraction, this can reportedly result in a felony charge if there is evidence that the animal parts spread chronic wasting disease to local big game herds in Utah.