HELENA — Hunters in Montana could end up breaking the law if they douse themselves in urine that comes from one of the states where a neurological disease that is fatal to deer, moose and elk is present, under a bill heard Thursday.
That measure, plus another bill that would ban certain animal carcasses and parts from those same states, are being proposed to stiffen Montana’s efforts to keep its wildlife from being infected by chronic wasting disease.
With the disease already present in three bordering states and two Canadian provinces that border Montana, trying to prevent its entry may be futile, wildlife officials and advocates said.
“It’s not a matter of if it comes here, it’s a matter of when.” said Joe Cohenour, a chapter chairman for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
Cohenour’s wife, Sen. Jill Cohenour, D-East Helena, is sponsoring the two bills. The first would make it illegal for hunters to use deer or elk urine to mask their own odor if the urine came from one of the 23 states or two provinces with chronic wasting disease. A violation would be a misdemeanor crime punishable by a $500 fine or six months in jail or both.
Jill Cohenour said the state should do what it can to keep the disease at bay. If a case is found, the entire area will be closed off and all the animals there will be killed for testing, she said.
“I find it abhorrent that there’s a possibility that our hunting heritage could be affected by something as devastating as this,” she said.
Montana had nine cases of chronic wasting disease found on a game farm in Phillipsburg in the late 1990s. Livestock officials killed all 89 elk there and the farm was burned, according to news reports at the time. No cases of the disease have been found in the state since then.
Alaska, Virginia, Vermont, Arizona and Arkansas already have similar urine bans. Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks supports imposing one in Montana, too.
The degenerative disease affects the nervous systems of deer, elk and moose, said FWP wildlife administrator Ken McDonald. It’s caused by an abnormal protein that infects other proteins and leads to fatal nerve and brain damage.
The disease doesn’t infect other big game species or livestock, and there is no evidence that it affects humans, McDonald said. The disease is likely spread by ingesting urine, feces, saliva and blood, he said.
Mitch King, the government relations director of the Archery Trade Association, said his organization opposes a urine ban. The association has been working for the past four years with commercial producers to ensure the deer urine they sell doesn’t come from animals with the disease.
“We would prefer to try to address this without regulation,” King said.
Cohenour said she may offer an amendment to exempt urine sold with the Archery Trade Association program’s label.
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