A statewide system for chronic wasting disease testing this hunting season was a success, said Division of Wildlife officials.
So they're going to do it again next year.
More than 26,000 deer and elk were tested for chronic wasting disease last fall, several thousand in Northwest Colorado.
The DOW has announced it will plan on testing up to twice as many animals next season.
Ron Velarde, the West Regional Manager for the DOW, said the testing set up this season was not only important from a customer service standpoint for hunters but for measurements on the prevalence of the disease statewide.
The disease, which is fatal in deer and elk, was more prevalent in Northwest Colorado than officials had anticipated with more than 20 animals testing positive for the disease in Moffat County alone.
Before this year, the disease was not even known to exist outside of the endemic area near Fort Collins.
At this time a year ago, officials were scrambling to come to grips with the fact that the disease had spread outside of the endemic area when deer were discovered to be carrying it in southwest Routt County.
But by the time hunting season started last August, a sampling site had been set up in Craig and numerous other sites had been established in Colorado.
At those sites, samples were removed from animals and sent to Colorado State University
"Successfully testing this many animals and getting results to hunters in a matter of weeks is a remarkable achievement and truly unprecedented," said DOW Director Russell George. "With essential help from volunteers and excellent work by CSU's diagnostic laboratory, we provided a surveillance system that many predicted couldn't be done on such a short timeline."
Velarde said other states faced the same dilemma Colorado did in dealing with the spread of chronic wasting disease.
Wisconsin saw a drop in the number of hunters in its state last year, whereas Colorado saw an increase, he said.
Hunters were satisfied with the convenience and timeliness of the system, Velarde said, especially in such hunting-rich areas as those in western Colorado.
"We will have a facility in Craig again in 2003," said DOW spokesperson Todd Malmsbury. "It will continue to be one of the most important."
Tony Stoffle, sportsmen's information specialist with the Craig Chamber of Commerce, said it was important that a sampling site was in Craig.
"Had it been in Grand Junction, it would have hurt our economy because it would have pulled those hunters away," he said. "And hunting is our economy."
Hunters he talked to said they were glad a site was in the area.
While the disease is fatal in deer and elk, it has not been proven to infect humans.
But as a precaution, the DOW, along with federal and state health officials, recommend that the meat of infected animals not be eaten.
Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.