Division of Wildlife officials began killing more wild deer and elk today in the Motherwell Ranch area south of Hayden after a fifth wild deer was discovered to be carrying chronic wasting disease.
"The concern we have is there's still deer and elk in the area carrying the disease and we need to go in and get them before they begin to migrate out," said Todd Malmsburg, chief of information with the Division of Wildlife.
Two weeks ago state officials killed 300 deer within a five-mile radius of Motherwell Ranch after two wild mule deer within the elk ranch were discovered to be carrying the disease. Of the 300 deer killed in that effort, two tested positive for CWD.
"The two deer found outside of the fence were less than a mile from one another," Malmsburg said. "We went in and killed 18 more deer within that one little hot spot and one of those tested positive."
The latest discovery brings the total of deer infected outside the fence to three.
"We just finalized the decision to go back in this afternoon," he said. "We don't know how many deer and elk we will find but it certainly won't be in the thousands. It's all guesswork."
Officials will work to kill all deer and elk within a five-mile radius of the ranch, but will focus on one spot in particular.
"We're really going to be focusing on that area where the three positives have been found," Malmsburg said.
The DOW is aggressively killing the deer in that area in order to prevent the spread of the disease when animals begin to migrate for the summer.
"Our goal is to do everything we can to eradicate the disease on the Western Slope," said DOW Director Russell George in a statement released Monday. "We believe we have a reasonable chance of success if we move quickly and decisively prior to the major spring migrations."
Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos was disappointed about the news of a fifth positive test.
"It's very disheartening that they found another positive in this last 18," she said. "The percentage of animals discovered to be infected is very low but we have to still take this seriously."
She said the DOW is taking the right action in addressing the latest discovery.
George said the DOW has no choice but to take its current actions.
"This is the toughest, most unpleasant job our wildlife field staff has ever been faced with," he said. "Culling hundreds of deer and elk is the last thing they want to do. But we believe it would be irresponsible to take no action in the hope that chronic wasting disease will somehow disappear on its own. We owe it to all Coloradans to do what we can now, rather than leave this problem for others to solve."
Thus far nothing has been done to the 140 domestic elk within Motherwell Ranch, but the Department of Agriculture is planning to eliminate all the elk on the ranch. They will also be tested for CWD.
Chronic wasting disease affects the brains of elk and deer causing them to grow thin and die.
It is related to mad cow disease, but has not been proven to spread from deer and elk to cattle and people. The discovery at Motherwell Ranch is the first time the disease has been detected west of the Continental Divide in Colorado.
According to the Associated Press, Gov. Bill Owens asked lawmakers Monday for an additional $1.9 million to fight the disease.