CWD facility still in question

Craig to get at least a site to take daily samples from hunters

A site where hunters can take their elk or deer heads to have samples removed for chronic wasting disease testing rather than an actual testing facility is a worst case scenario for Craig this fall, according to the state's Division of Wildlife director.

"We'll be in Craig doing something," said Russell George, director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "There will at least be a sampling station there. That will satisfy most hunters."

George said Friday the Division of Wildlife is still working out details about getting a testing site in Craig.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal illness that infects deer and elk.

Last spring the disease was discovered in 10 mule deer in and around the Motherwell Ranch south of Hayden. The discovery was the first on Colorado's Western Slope.

When word first got out that the disease was in the area, several local officials and business owners expressed concern about the impact the discovery might have on out-of-state hunters wanting to come to the area this season. A local chronic wasting disease committee formed to assess the CWD situation concluded that the best way to ease the impact would be to get a testing facility in Craig so hunters could know whether their animals were disease-free before they took them home.

Currently the testing can only be conducted at Colorado State University.

George stressed that the Division of Wildlife is still trying to get a lab in Craig, but said if a sampling station is the best the state can do, it would still be able to get a fast turn around on the test results.

"The service will look the same as it does in Fort Collins," he said. "The samples will be picked up every night in Craig and taken to Fort Collins. It would still be a pretty good service."

In order to test for CWD, a sample of an animal's brain tissue is needed. If the actual testing cannot be done in Craig, a location will be set up in Craig where hunters can take the heads of their animals to have a brain sample removed. From there, the sample would be sent to Fort Collins for testing.

As far as an actual testing site in Craig, George said the DOW is still deciding if it is feasible and how it would want to conduct a lab.

"We're getting specifications on equipment," he said. "There's no details yet. One question that remains is what type of test we will be running in it."

The most accurate test available is conducted at Colorado State University. But due to cost and equipment requirements, that test cannot be set up at a remote location like Craig.

A quicker, easier test for chronic wasting disease that lacks the accuracy of the standard test conducted at CSU is the dot blot test.

George said that is the test that would likely be conducted if a lab were set up in Craig.

But right now CSU is still perfecting a rapid test developed in Europe that might be ready by this fall.

If the test is found to be sufficient in the next few weeks it might be used at a lab placed in Craig, George said.

Hunters in Northwest Colorado will not be required to have their animals tested next fall, said Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos.

If a testing facility is placed in Craig it will be placed there for the convenience of hunters who want to have their animals tested, she said.

Raftopoulos, who serves on the state wildlife commission, was at a meeting in Durango last week when the decision was made to require animal testing in the state's endemic area near Fort Collins.

"They wanted to get a very accurate and very good sample in that area," Raftopoulos said. "That's why the decision was made to make testing mandatory."

Raftopoulos said Northwest Colorado was not mentioned in the discussion of mandated testing.

"They didn't even bring us up," she said.

Raftopoulos said she plans to reconvene the local chronic wasting disease committee within the next two weeks and will invite George to discuss what is going to happen in Craig.

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