Science Center Objects

Over the past 20 years, chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Wyoming has been spreading slowly outward from the southeastern corner of the state toward the Greater Yellowstone Area and Wyoming's elk feed grounds, where more than 24,000 elk are supplementally fed each winter.

Recently, however, the disease was detected in mule deer near Alpine and Pinedale, setting off renewed concern about the impact of CWD on feed ground elk. These feed grounds facilitate dense aggregations of elk during the feeding season, and it is these high elk densities that may put feed ground elk at greater risk of CWD spread and subsequent declines in survival and population growth. Studies show that CWD prevalence tends to be higher in mule deer than elk and Wyoming surveillance data suggest that CWD in mule deer is more widely distributed across the state. As a result, introduction of CWD into the feed ground system is likely to come from interaction with infected mule deer or the environment contaminated by infected mule deer.

Mule deer in Wyoming with snow covered mountains in the distance

(Public domain.)

Current objective:

To relate mule deer migratory pathways and habitat use to elk space use and connect these areas of overlap to locations where those elk will be during the hunting season.

Past work:

Our past work on CWD focused on modeling efforts to understand how a persistent environmental reservoir may affect long-term disease dyanmics and population dynamics of deer and elk. In addition, we worked on assessing mule deer connectivity around Montana by contributing to collaring efforts as well as using genetic methods.