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Chronic wasting disease was first discovered in Saskatchewan's wild deer population in 2000. ((Courtesy Julie Huckabay))

Chronic wasting disease in Saskatchewan wild deer is on the increase, prompting the government to step up efforts to curb its spread.

Saskatchewan Environment is encouraging hunters to kill more deer this year and to turn in the animal heads for testing, said Marv Hlady, a wildlife specialist with the department.

The fatal "brain wasting" disease affects deer, elk and moose. Since testing began in the province in 1997, 150 deer have tested positive, with 2006 posting the highest number at 47.

This year the province has broadened areas open to hunters and is allowing them to take more deer. In addition, Hlady said the government will test more heads.

"We want to be able to make a good scientific analysis of where the disease is and where it is not," he said.

Butwildlife expert Val Geist, professor emeritus at the University of Calgary,dismissed the province's approach as a "desperation" strategy.

"I think it's the only thing that's politically feasible because the alternative is to go in and ruthlessly destroy the deer stock and that requires a lot more than legal hunting," said Geist.

Getting rid of game farms and preventing hunters from using bait to attract wildlife may also help slow the spread of the disease,he said.

Although there is no scientific evidence to indicate chronic wasting disease can be passed on to humans, the province recommends people do not eat the meat of any deer that has tested positive.