Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) surveillance update: October 1, 2023

As hunters gear up for fall big game seasons, the CWD surveillance program also kicks into high gear. Alberta’s program to monitor the occurrence and spread of CWD supports game management and deer harvest decisions, particularly in regards to mule deer. The program continues to adapt to changing patterns in the occurrence and spread of the disease in wild deer. The province relies heavily on hunter-harvested deer heads, or specific tissues thereof, for testing. Previous results are available at:

CWD management program goals

For 2023, the program has two primary goals:

  • Continue to document long-term effects of CWD in select deer populations along the Alberta-Saskatchewan border where it has occurred since the early 2000s (8 mandatory WMUs)
  • Track the westward and northern spread along the leading edges of the known distribution of CWD in wild deer (a series of designated WMUs of interest)

As such, the areas where hunters are asked to submit heads from the 2023/24 seasons reflects these two primary game management goals.

Deer head submission locations and contacts

The program continues to deploy 24-hour freezers within these targeted areas during primary rifle seasons, but cannot provide them elsewhere in the province. A map of the 2023-24 surveillance areas and a list of specific freezer locations are provided at:

The Alberta government continues to test any head from any cervid legally harvested in Alberta. However, opportunities for submitting heads outside the target areas are extremely limited. Many local Fish and Wildlife or Environment and Protected Areas offices are no longer accepting deer heads.

Office phone numbers are provided at:

Office contact information may also be found on page 13 of:

As in previous years during the rifle seasons, 24-hour freezers are placed strategically throughout the surveillance areas to make it easier for hunters to drop off heads for testing. Instructions and materials are provided at each freezer.

Remember:

  • Fill out both sides of the green CWD labels with all the requested information.
  • Keep the bottom portion of the label for your records as it has the CWD number associated with the head you submitted.
  • Use one label for each head you submit but DO NOT take extra labels from the freezers. Leave them for other hunters to use.

Note that the head drop-off freezers are only available approximately mid-October to mid-December.

CWD testing schedule and results

All hunters who submit a head receive their test results directly in an email using the email address in their AlbertaRELM account. Hunters without an email address in their account are phoned only if the animal is positive for CWD.

The total number of CWD cases detected in wild deer, elk, and moose in Alberta since September 2005 is 5,455.

Free CWD replacement licences no longer available

The original intent in offering replacement licences was to encourage hunters to return to areas of Alberta where CWD was first detected. However, hunter interest and harvest in the CWD area remains high and free replacement licences are no longer necessary.

Initially, very few harvested deer had CWD and thus very few replacement licences were offered. However, with increased prevalence and distribution of CWD, this is no longer the case.

Increasing numbers of hunters with a CWD replacement licence are creating a disproportionate harvest opportunity and advantage over those hunters who must build priority points to access a licence, particularly for antlered mule deer.

CWD occurs in pockets of localized deer, so hunters harvesting from the same small population each year are more likely to harvest an infected deer and gain access to annual free replacement licences.

As the number of CWD cases increases over time, the number of replacement licences:

  • becomes disproportionate to the number of licences available to individuals who apply for draws
  • limits the diversity of opportunity for broader populations of hunters who wish to have that opportunity

CWD and human health

While there are no known cases of CWD in humans, health authorities recommend precautions. Additional information is available at:

Thank you to hunters, guides and landowners

It is hard to believe we have been tracking this disease in wild deer in Alberta for over 20 years. Alberta began CWD hunter surveillance in 1998 and has one of the best continuous datasets documenting the occurrence and patterns of CWD in wild cervids, specifically in prairie / parkland ecosystems. The continued support of hunters, guides and landowners is the basis for the strength of our surveillance data.

The success of the CWD surveillance program relies heavily on participation by hunters, guides, and landowners to ensure a successful harvest that provides heads to be tested. We heartily acknowledge and thank all those who helped make the program so successful and look forward to your continued support.

Patterns of CWD in Alberta

There are significant overall patterns of disease occurrence in Alberta. CWD continues to occur primarily in mule deer in comparison to white-tailed deer despite testing large numbers of both species. Similarly males are more likely to be infected than females.

Graph of overall Chronic Wasting Disease prevelance from 1996 to 2022
* Program change in approach to mandatory areas
  Graph of annual Chronic Wasting Disease prevelance from 2010 to 2022


Analyses of previous data determined the weighted CWD occurrence in Alberta is:

  • Mule Deer: male 1.00 female 0.4
  • White-tailed Deer: male 0.3 female 0.1

Thus male mule deer are the most likely, and female white-tailed deer the least likely to be infected with CWD.

The geographic distribution of CWD is clustered in some WMUs but continues to expand westward.

  • Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta by wildlife management unit
    This record in the Open Publications Portal contains the following reports:
    • CWD in Alberta by WMU 2005 to 2022
    • CWD in Alberta by WMU 2005 to 2021
    • CWD in Alberta by WMU 2005 to 2020
    • CWD in Alberta by WMU 2005 to 2019
    • CWD in Alberta by WMU 2005 to 2018
    • CWD in Alberta by WMU 2005 to 2017

In conjunction with the University of Alberta, we used Alberta’s surveillance data to model the risk of CWD in male mule deer.

We looked at three periods:

  • a seven-year period since the first case (2005-2012)
  • more recent data (2013-2017)
  • the cumulative risk over all years showing the progressive increase of risk from 2005 to 2017

View the CWD risk report at: Chronic wasting disease change in risk over time in male mule deer – 2005 to 2017.

The following map tracks the year where CWD was first detected in select Wildlife Management Units (WMUs): Chronic wasting disease in Alberta by year of first detection.

The prevalence (% infected) of CWD in male mule deer continues to increase in Alberta. For details, see: Prevalence (% infected) of CWD in male mule deer – 2010 and 2019.

The finding of CWD in a moose near the South Saskatchewan River valley in 2012 is the first such case identified in Canada: CWD in Moose in Alberta.

Specific information about the CWD hunter surveillance program is provided at: Chronic Wasting Disease – Information for Hunters

  • CWD surveillance is focused on the Alberta/Saskatchewan border; however, hunter-killed deer (and elk) are accepted from anywhere in the province (as in all previous years)

2022 Final fall CWD surveillance results

In 2022-23, we tested 4,614 wild cervids.

  • CWD was detected in 714 wild deer, elk and moose (15.8% overall: 575 mule deer (361 males, 214 females), 129 white-tails (105 males, 24 females), 5 elk (all females), 5 moose (4 males, 1 female).

Looking more closely at the data for 2022-23, CWD was found in:

  • 23.4% of 2,457 mule deer
  • 8.3% of 1,556 white-tailed deer
  • 1.6% of 320 elk (primarily from CFB Suffield)
  • 2.9% of 175 moose (primarily from CFB Wainwright)

In 4,022 deer for which gender/sex was reported, CWD was detected in:

  • 34.5% of 1,045 male mule deer
  • 15.2% of 1,407 female mule deer
  • 10.3% of 1,002 male whitetails
  • 4.7% of 548 female whitetails

CWD was detected in only one Wildlife Management Unit where it was not previously documented (WMU 312). However, the prevalence (% infected) of CWD continues to rise in most areas, particularly in mule deer males, and at CFB Wainwright.

To learn more about CWD Surveillance in Alberta, see:

For past CWD surveillance results and a general timeline of CWD in Alberta, see:

CWD map and statistics

  • Map: Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta

    This record in the Open Publications Portal Includes:

    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2022)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2021)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2020)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2019)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2005 to 2018)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2005 to 2017)
  • Statistics: Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta: surveillance summaries

    This record in the Open Publications Portal includes:

    • Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta: surveillance summary (2022)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta: surveillance summary (2021)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta: surveillance summary (2020)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in Alberta: surveillance summary (2019)
  • Statistics: Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta

    This record in the Open Publications Portal includes:

    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2018)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild cervids in Alberta (2017)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild deer and a moose in Alberta (2011-2016)
    • Chronic Wasting Disease in wild deer in Alberta (2005 to 2010)

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