Alberta Environment and Parks is partnering with Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment and the Alberta Conservation Association on a project led by researchers from four universities in Western Canada. The project will examine five potential antigens and two different oral delivery platforms to help prevent the spread of CWD.

Environment and Parks is providing $381,000 over two years to support CWD vaccine and management research at the University of Calgary and University of Alberta. The Alberta Conservation Association is providing $500,000 over five years through their research fund and Saskatchewan is committing $400,000 over five years through their Fish and Wildlife Development Fund.

“The ongoing spread of CWD through wildlife populations threatens a natural resource of considerable economic, ecological and social importance. An effective oral vaccine for CWD would complement other science-based strategies to limit the prevalence and spread of CWD in wildlife populations in Alberta and beyond.”

Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks

CWD is a prion disease affecting cervids – commonly referred to as members of the deer family, such as deer, elk, moose and caribou – and is similar to bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) in cattle. Without being treated or managed, CWD reduces overall populations of deer, is always fatal to infected animals and results in prions contaminating the environment over long periods.

“Environment and Parks is pleased to provide ongoing support for CWD research and monitoring to help address what many biologists consider as the most significant disease-related wildlife conservation issue in North America. An effective oral vaccine for CWD has the potential to significantly reduce prevalence and geographic spread of this disease in wild cervids, and consequently reduce the risk of environmental contamination from prion shed.”

Dr. Jonathan Thompson, chief scientist

“This shared funding agreement between Alberta and Saskatchewan has the potential to yield an effective tool to protect our cervid populations across the Prairies. A vaccine could assist in reducing challenges faced with premature fatalities in the animals as well as offering a reduction in transmission across more than just our two provinces.”

Warren Kaeding, Saskatchewan Minister of Environment

“CWD poses a significant risk to the future of wildlife resources across Alberta, Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions. With this funding commitment, the Alberta Conservation Association, on behalf of the hunters and anglers of Alberta, has drawn together the top researchers in the field of CWD vaccine development. Through this collaboration, we are optimistic that this project can make significant strides toward providing a new management option for controlling CWD in wild cervid populations.”

Todd Zimmerling, president and CEO, Alberta Conservation Association

Alberta monitors CWD more extensively than any other jurisdiction. Environment and Parks invests $500,000 annually in its CWD monitoring and testing program. Each year, approximately 11,000 heads of cervids harvested by hunters are tested to track the prevalence and rate of geographic spread of CWD. In addition to informing Alberta’s wildlife management strategies, the data and specimens collected through this program support nearly all of the CWD research conducted by the academic community in Western Canada.

Once a successful vaccine is developed, additional research is required to investigate how to provide an oral form that wild deer could consume.

Quick facts

  • Grant funding from Environment and Parks includes $195,000 for the University of Calgary and $186,000 for the University of Alberta.
  • CWD is endemic in deer populations throughout southern Alberta and, if not managed, threatens cervids throughout the province, including at-risk populations of woodland caribou.
  • Alberta Health, Health Canada and the World Health Organizations all advise that any deer harvested in a jurisdiction affected by CWD be tested for the disease and, if positive, that the animal not be consumed.
  • To date, most of the CWD vaccines that have been developed are delivered through injection. While this is an effective approach for the comparative evaluation of antigens and may provide a tool for the farmed cervid industry, control of CWD in wildlife depends on the development of an oral vaccine that can be broadly and efficiently distributed in the environment via forage.
  • The Alberta Conservation Association (ACA) is a delegated administrative organization that leads several conservation-based initiatives to improve public awareness and promote hunting, angling and habitat protection for a number of species and sustainable uses.
  • The ACA receives a portion of the proceeds from hunting and fishing licence sales in Alberta to fund projects that improve wildlife health and support sustainable hunting and fishing opportunities in the province.