The effort to contain chronic wasting disease that included killing more than 1,000 deer and elk within a five-mile radius of the Motherwell Ranch may have been in vain, the executive director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said Thursday.
Wild deer have been seen within the fence surrounding the ranch south of Hayden where the first known cases on the state's Western Slope were discovered two months ago.
Shortly after the discovery, Division of Wildlife officials killed more than 1,000 wild deer in the area and a fence was set up around the ranch in hopes that wild deer and the elk on the ranch would not intermingle.
Although the exact mode of CWD transmission has not been identified, it is believed that the disease, which is fatal to animals, is transmitted from animal to animal through contact with animal saliva, urine and feces. Officials say they are concerned about animals in the wild coming in contact with the domestic elk at Motherwell, in the case the elk are infected with the disease.
But wild mule deer were spotted Wednesday night roaming within the confines of the seven-mile fence that contains more than 100 domestic elk. Las Vegas resident Wes Adams owns the elk at the ranch.
Executive Director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife Russell George said he was not aware of deer being within the fence at Motherwell Ranch.
"Our people have been watching for that," George said.
George said the situation raises concerns within his department.
"It's very serious because we have risk of exposure on that property," he said.
An official with the Department of Agriculture said local Division of Wildlife officials, however, were aware of five deer that were within the confines of the fence.
There were five deer that officials missed during the initial culling effort, said Jim Miller, the Department of Agriculture's director of legislative affairs.
He said DOW officials were making plans to go back in soon and kill the five deer that remained.
While the DOW has jurisdiction over animals in the wild, the Department of Agriculture is responsible for domestic animals.
"The unanimous decision at first was that the (elk) be put down as soon as possible," Miller said. "But the owner is saying they not be put down at less than market value, which he said is $650,000 for the entire herd. We (The Department of Agriculture) can't afford it."
Adams has insisted that the disease is carried in wild animals in the area, and says there has been no indication that any of the domestic elk on his property carry the disease.
"The problem is we can't find an infected elk," Miller said. "Since we don't have positive elk all we know is the herd is exposed."
No one would know if the elk within the ranch were infected until the animals are killed because the only way the elk could be tested is if they are dead.
Miller said the Department of Agriculture wants to kill the elk in the ranch so they know if that's where the disease is.
"We don't want it to be a reservoir for chronic wasting disease," he said.
If it is discovered that the deer currently within the fence have not always been there and have entered by jumping the fence surrounding the property, Adams would be in violation of the law, Miller said.
"Mr. Adams was warned that the fence was to be impermeable," he said.
"It's his responsibility. The purpose of the fence is to keep the herds and wildlife from intermingling."
"The concern has been that the fence on the property would separate wild game from the domestic elk," George said.
"If you have animals moving back and forth you can't control the disease."
"It's why we've been so insistent on depopulating," he said. "This is of significant concern."