PIERRE, S.D. — State officials are working together to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in captive elk and deer herds, but say the disease is a tricky challenge.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Park Commission heard an update from State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven on chronic wasting disease prevalence and prevention in the state during a meeting Thursday, March 5 in Pierre.

Oedekoven said the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department's tighter surveillance of the fatal disease is greatly appreciated.

Oedekoven said that he suspects a 10-month-old elk contracted chronic wasting disease after eating hay contaminated by the feces and urine of a wild deer with chronic wasting disease.

The young elk tested positive for the disease in Clark County, but likely contracted it when it was apart of another captive herd 300 miles away in Meade County, which is located in western South Dakota.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, is a fatal neurological disease that affects members of the cervid family including deer, elk, reindeer and moose, according to information on the GF&P's website.

"Animals in the late stages of infection with CWD show progressive loss of weight, poor body condition, behavioral changes, excessive salivation, increased drinking and urination, loss of muscle control and eventual death. Animals that appear perfectly healthy may also be infected with CWD but may not show the symptoms of the disease," the information states.

Oedekoven said there is a way to test for chronic wasting disease while the animal is still alive, though the method is still being worked out and has been more successful when testing deer as opposed to elk.

The state's known endemic areas include the counties of Bennett, Butte, Corson, Custer, Fall River, Haakon, Harding, Jackson, Meade, Lawrence, Pennington and Tripp.

South Dakota teenager's petition to extend youth pheasant hunting season a success

A Jones County eighth-grade student made quite the impression on commissioners during Thursday’s meeting.

Savanah Hendricks successfully petitioned the commission to make a rule change that would extend the youth pheasant hunting season.

Hendricks said that the state needs to extend the youth pheasant hunting season so she and her fellow youths can actually have time to take advantage of the special hunting privilege.

Hendricks gave a quick, yet concise presentation arguing that children are busy with academic and extracurricular activities.

Her petition requests that two weekends be included in the youth pheasant hunting season.

The 2020 season, if it remains unchanged, will be Oct. 3 through Oct. 7.

Commissioners commended Hendricks, agreeing with her arguments that an extended youth hunting season would help increase the numbers of the state’s next generation of hunters and outdoors people.

The season is open to resident and nonresident youths ages 12 through 17 who possess a valid hunter safety certificate and small game license.

Children ages 10 to 15 who are participating in the Mentored Hunt program may hunt during the Youth Pheasant season.

The commissioners told Hendricks that she might have to join the department’s marketing team before voting unanimously to pass the petition.

Finalization of the petition will be considered during the commission’s April meeting in Sioux Falls.

After the meeting, Hendricks told Forum News Service that the petition presentation went better than she had expected.

“I was expecting more questions from them but I guess I did a good job answering them all,” Hendricks said.

She noted that her friends are excited for an extended youth pheasant hunting season as well.

"They're kind of like me because they work hard in school and their an athlete so they don't have time to actually get out during that time," Hendricks said.

Her advice to the commission to get more youths out in the field?

"Host more youth hunts," Hendricks said.

Nonresident East River deer hunting license

Commissioner Doug Sharp, of Watertown, said he’s not ready to support 500 extra tags for nonresidents in eastern South Dakota due to concerns with the health of deer populations in the state.

Commissioner Robert Whitmyre, of Webster, said that the consensus among about a dozen or so of residents in his community was in opposition to allocating the additional deer licenses to nonresidents.

Whitmyre said the concerns stem from how the 500 licenses would affect the number of resident licenses.

Commissioner Mary Ann Boyd, of Yankton, echoed Whitmyre’s comments, saying that if the change was approved it would worsen the idea that to hunt in the state one has to “pay to play.”

The proposed change for an allocation of 500 nonresident East River special “any whitetail” deer licenses is the result of a petition for rule change.

According to information on the GF&P website, 119 landowners using landowner preference and 10,584 resident applicants were unsuccessful in drawing their first-choice license for the first drawing of the East River deer season.

Had the rule change passed, the sale of 500 nonresident licenses at $554 each would have generated about $277,000 from sales.