Third deer tests negative for wasting disease


A third wild mule deer suspected to have chronic wasting disease at the Motherwell Ranch east of Hayden has tested negative, Division of Wildlife officials announced Tuesday.

Last week a wild mule deer killed within the Motherwell Ranch tested positive for chronic wasting disease and two more were suspected to carry the disease.

The discovery is the first time the disease has been detected on the Western Slope.

It was announced Monday the second deer also tested positive, but the third deer was negative.

In an effort to eradicate the disease, wildlife officials began killing deer in and within a five mile radius of the ranch Monday to test if the disease had spread into area herds.

So far 150 deer have been killed. The goal is to kill and test 300 deer by the end of the week.

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, who serves on the Colorado State Wildlife Commission, said once the deer are killed their heads are cut off and transferred to Colorado State University labs where they are tested for the disease. The deer must be killed in order to be tested.

Every carcass is tagged, she said, so officials know which head goes with which carcass.

If a deer tests positive, the carcass will be bagged and shipped to Fort Collins for incineration, she said.

Deer that test negative will be buried.

The deer is not processed as a safety precaution, she said.

"There's a 48-hour turn around on when the test results are known," she said. "At this point it's getting warm and the deer can't be processed quick enough."

State Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, said he's been following the issue closely from the state capital.

"It's a very serious issue," White said. "It's one of the most serious issues we're facing in the state."

White said he didn't think some in the Legislature realized the significance of chronic wasting disease.

"A lot of the metro legislators aren't seeing this," he said. "They don't see the economic impact this could have on the economy. If we can't maintain a healthy game herd it will have a significant impact on the whole state, and particularly in my district."

Right now the matter is not in the Legislature's control, he said, but if those handling the situation were to ask for help he said he would want to assist.

"The Department of Agriculture and the Division of Wildlife are taking this issue very serious right now," he said. "If and when they request legislation we would like to take a look at it."

White said he is concerned about the discovery, but would be more concerned if the issue were being taken lightly.

"What we need to do is eradicate this," he said. "We need to keep it at a low level so it doesn't pose a threat and we'll be in good shape."

The stigma that accompanies chronic wasting disease also scares White.

"One of my concerns is other states will put a ban on bringing deer across the border from Colorado," he said. "Why would anyone come here to hunt if they can't bring a deer home?"

Steve Herman, owner of Great Divide Elk Ranch 10 miles north of Craig, said the chronic wasting disease stigma has already hurt the elk ranching business in Colorado.

"Chronic wasting disease has become a stigma in elk ranching that is unjustified," he said. "Every elk on our ranch that dies is tested for the disease. In six years we haven't had a positive test."

Herman stressed that the recent chronic wasting disease discovery was in a wild animal.

"As elk ranchers there's nothing we can do outside of the fence," he said. "We have wild deer against our fence all the time. We can control what's inside our fence but not what's outside."

He said a correlation between the disease and elk ranching is often made too quickly.

"Chronic wasting disease is a public-perception disease," he said. "We've seen the elk industry go from very high to very sluggish because of it. Elk ranchers are the last people that want to see it get out of hand. Ninety-eight percent of ranchers have a testing program and never detect the disease. The few that are discovered to have it, everybody knows about."

Herman said the disease is not new and thus far there's no proof of negative effects on humans.

"It's been around 30 years," he said. "Since they've discovered chronic wasting disease there hasn't been one case of a person dying from it."

So far none of the captive elk at Motherwell Ranch have been tested by the Department of Agriculture.

"Right now the animals are under quarantine," said Linh Truong, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture. "We hope to be able to euthanize and test them soon. Maybe within the next week."

Truong said the department has submitted a request to the United States Department of Agriculture for funds to compensate the ranch's owner, which is why it is waiting to test the elk.

Each elk can be appraised for a maximum of $3,000, she said.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal contagious illness related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It has not yet been proven to spread from deer and elk to cattle and people.

Division of Wildlife Director Russ George said the eradication effort with the deer is going well.

"We have a lot of cooperation with the owner of the facility as well as local landowners," George said. "We are working long hours to collect the 300 animals needed for a sound assessment."

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has scheduled two public meetings this week to educate local residents on the recent chronic wasting disease discovery.

The first will be held at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the Yampa Valley State Park Headquarters in Hayden.

The second meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Meeker Fairfield Center.

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