Two of the 311 deer culled last week the Motherwell Ranch south of Hayden tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
Although the infection rate in the deer herds is well below 1 percent, the two positive results carry enough concern for state officials to label the area a "hot spot." Officials are also concerned because the deer were beyond the fences of the ranch.
The two deer testing positive are the result of an eradication effort in and around the ranch last week after two wild mule deer within the fence had already been discovered to carry the disease.
Tuesday afternoon at the Yampa Valley Regional Airport Administration Building, Gov. Bill Owens, along with several other state officials discussed what the results mean and what actions will be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.
"This is an aggressive disease," Owens said. "It has the potential to change the very character of Colorado so we're taking every step we can to contain it, research it and stop it."
Greg Walcher, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, shared the governor's sentiments.
"We're looking to make sure we take the most aggressive possible approach to make sure it doesn't spread further," Walcher said. "We realize the huge effect this could have on the livelihood and economy of this part of the state."
Representing Craig and Moffat County at the meeting were Sheriff Buddy Grinstead, Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, Commissioner Les Hampton, Mayor Dave DeRose and Cathy Vanatta, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
Grinstead said he was concerned about the financial impact this could have on the area if hunters are afraid to come from other states next fall.
"This is already a large problem," Grinstead said. "At this point the wound is already established but we need to stop the bleeding."
A quick method of on-site testing for chronic wasting disease could help the situation, he said.
"We need to develop a testing process that can be done in two or three days for out-of-state hunters," he said. "When hunters come from out of state they can't wait for 10 days to bring the meat home."
Russell George, director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said new methods of testing are being worked on and the department hopes to have a test site set up in Northwest Colorado this hunting season.
"Hiring staff is the problem," he said. "We can buy the equipment but the problem is trying to keep up with the pace of testing hundreds of deer everyday."
Dick Steele, a veterinarian from Delta, suggested more deer be killed in the area of Motherwell Ranch to find out if the disease has spread.
"Early this summer we'll do just what you are proposing," George said. "We'll test another 300 and do the same with those results as we're doing with these."
Owens said the testing is important.
"We need to make sure we have an accurate picture of whether this disease has spread," Owens said. "We're going to really work between now and hunting season to make sure the method of testing is as quick, simple and accurate as possible."
Grinstead said while he believes it is the state's responsibility to provide means for testing deer in the area, people in Northwest Colorado would be willing to assist in the process.
"The state owns the wildlife and that's why it's their responsibility," he said. "I don't want them to put it on small businesses in the area. But I do think they can work collectively. I think you'll find a large number of people in Northwest Colorado volunteer their assistance."
The key is to acquire the proper testing material then let people know it's available when they come to hunt, Grinstead said.
"If we reassure hunters this can be done it will lessen the financial impact on the area," he said.
Ellie Arnold, director of the Meeker Chamber of Commerce, asked officials what she is supposed to tell people when they call asking about the disease.
George said she needs to explain to people what the disease is and what the current situation is in Northwest Colorado.
"Tell folks you're telling them everything you know and let them make the decision from there," he said. "Also tell them how they can get it tested."
Vanatta asked if states are not allowing meat to be brought in from Colorado. Owens said he has not heard of any states implementing that restriction.
"I would call the state's governor if I heard that, Owens said. I know the governors in all 50 states."
Like Meeker, Vanatta said the Craig Chamber of Commerce has been getting calls from concerned people.
"We're trying to get as much information out as possible to let them know what's going on," she said. "On-site testing will definitely help."
Mayor Dave DeRose agreed that on-site testing would help absorb the negative economic impact that could result from the chronic wasting disease discovery.
He said several business owners have been calling him asking what this means for their business, and DeRose said it is difficult to answer their questions.
"Our economy is extremely fragile and right now it should be time to explain to our business people in the area how not to be so vulnerable to a downfall in just one area," he said.
Owens responded that although Colorado is one of the top three diversified states in the country, that diversification is mainly on the Front Range.
"Too much of the state is still dependent upon too little," he said.
Vanatta agreed that tourism could be promoted in other ways.
"We really need to look at other options and not just count on hunting," she said.
Owens also announced the formation of a task force on chronic wasting disease.
"This task force of prominent Coloradans will help us chart the best course of action to contain and reduce CWD," he said.
Task Force members include:
Brad Rock, chairman of the Colorado Agriculture Commission.
Rick Enstrom, chairman of the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Cattlemen's Association.
Dick Steele, veterinarian.
Suzanne O'Niel, chairman of Colorado Wildlife Federation.
Sandy Evans-Hall, executive vice president of Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association.
Dan Ellison, Routt County commissioner.
Reeves Brown, executive director of Club 20.