Local CWD lab still in question

Local CWD lab still in question'Perfectly clear' message from Department of Wildlife is no guarantee of Craig facility

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Despite an e-mail message sent to a local official guaranteeing a chronic wasting disease testing facility in Craig this fall, state officials are hesitant to say that Craig will indeed have a lab.

In an e-mail message sent to Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos this week, Ron Velarde, West Regional manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said:

"(Director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife) Russ (George) has made it perfectly clear that the DOW will have a testing facility in Craig somewhere during the Big-game season. Location is not known at this time but we will keep you posted. The facility will be able to provide customer service in the range of 200-400 samples per day."

Since chronic wasting was discovered in wild mule deer at the Motherwell Ranch south of Hayden last spring, several residents and local officials have said it is important that a testing lab be placed in Craig this fall.

Although the disease has not been discovered to infect humans, the disease that is fatal in deer and elk is a relative of mad cow disease, which in Europe has been discovered to infect humans.

A local chronic wasting disease committee has been exploring the possibility of setting up a private lab in Craig using local dollars.

Committee members expressed that having a local lab would enable out-of-state hunters to get the heads of deer and elk tested before they return home with their meat.

Sending animal heads to Fort Collins for testing would not provide a quick enough turn around on the tests, the local committee believed.

Velarde could not be reached for comment on his message to Raftopoulos, but Raftopoulos, who heads the local committee, said she called George regarding the message.

"They don't have all the necessary information yet and they're trying to find out if it's doable," she said. "It's not been confirmed 100 percent yet, but he said they will know within a couple of weeks."

Todd Malmsbury, spokesperson for the DOW, agreed that the DOW would know within the next two weeks if a lab could be placed in Craig, but said it is still too early to make any guarantees.

"We are still trying to determine if we can have a testing facility for the Western Slope," he said. "If we can, Craig will certainly be at the top of the list. Until we have all of the details ironed out we can't say we're definitely going to do this."

But Malmsbury did say that the DOW is getting closer in its plans to place a lab in Craig.

"We think it's feasible and think there's a good chance there will be a lab in Craig," Malmsbury said.

Issues that are still being investigated include cost, the number of technicians required and what type of testing will be used.

In his e-mail message, Velarde said the newly developed dot blot test would likely be used at a portable lab in Craig.

The dot blot test is easier to conduct than the test currently done at Colorado State University and the University of Wyoming, but is not as accurate.

CSU is currently working in conjunction with private industries to develop other fast, accurate tests, but Malmsbury said it is difficult to say what tests might be developed between now and hunting season.

"The dot blot is one possibility," he said.

"But we're not sure what other tests we're going to have within the next couple of months."

Malmsbury said the likelihood of getting a lab in Craig is greater now than it was two months ago.

"We're getting closer," he said. "Right now we are actively working to see if it is feasible."

If the DOW would be able to provide a testing facility for CWD in Craig, Raftopoulos said it would benefit local businesses, which rely heavily on revenue generated from out-of-state hunters during hunting season.

"This would be a huge boost to our hunting season," Raftopoulos said. "It would help the economy out if, when people come here, they have a place to get the test done."

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