Wyoming keeps watch on Colorado's wasting disease

Official says chronic wasting illness has not impacted Wyoming's hunting season

Wyoming officials are closely monitoring the outcome of testing for chronic wasting disease being done on deer in and around the Motherwell Ranch south of Hayden.

"That's fairly close," said Jeff Obrecht, information officer with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "We're keeping our fingers crossed the eradication gets them."

Obrecht is talking about the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in two wild mule deer within the fence of the Motherwell Elk Ranch.

But chronic wasting disease is not a new issue for Wyoming officials.

Animals test positive for the disease every year in Wyoming, with an instance rate between 8 and 15 percent in the endemic area located between Wheatland and Laramie.

Wyoming's endemic area is just north of Colorado's endemic area, which is in Northeastern Colorado.

But like Colorado, the disease had yet to move west.

Wyoming, unlike Colorado, only has one domestic game herd compared to the several that exist in Colorado.

Game farms in Wyoming were outlawed in 1972 but one ranch that already was in business was grandfathered in, Obrecht said.

"That's one advantage Wyoming has is we only have one game farm," he said. "We don't have to worry about it being spread through wild game farms like they do in Colorado."

Obrecht said hunting is not as big an industry in Wyoming as it is in Northwest Colorado, but said it is still an important industry, particularly in the endemic area.

Despite the large number of positive tests for chronic wasting disease in the area, hunting license sales have not decreased.

"Both deer and elk hunting is important here," he said. "Since the disease started getting a lot of attention in 1997, we haven't seen a decline in the number of non-residents putting in for permits. Our non-resident interest has been constant."

Since the disease has been discovered, Wyoming officials have continually tested for it through random sampling in the endemic area, but thus far there has been no effort to eradicate the disease.

"There's been no eradication process," he said. "We use our area as a control to see how we compare to Colorado through its eradication."

Colorado and Wyoming officials have worked together on addressing the issue.

"We're not sure if eradication is needed in Wyoming," he said. "We'd probably look at it harder if the eradication in Colorado is proven to work."

Obrecht said he thinks the situation was handled well at Motherwell Ranch.

"It's our sincere hope the tests on the rest of those animals are negative," he said. "Due to the Department of Wildlife's quick action we hope they might have wiped it out."

Obrecht said current scientific data on chronic wasting disease should be kept in mind when addressing the issue.

The main reason the disease gets so much attention is because it is a relative of mad cow disease, which can infect humans, he said.

But at this point, there's no proof of a human ever contracting chronic wasting disease.

"It's a disease of perception because there is no evidence of it transferring to humans," he said.

"We wouldn't even be talking about this right now if it weren't for the mad cow string. That's what put this in the forefront."

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