Cathy Caro removes antlers from the head of an elk last year during the process of testing for chronic wasting disease at the Colorado Division of Wildlife testing site, 1715 N. Yampa Ave. CWD is a fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk, and is tested for by removing and examining the lymph nodes and tonsils.

File photo

Cathy Caro removes antlers from the head of an elk last year during the process of testing for chronic wasting disease at the Colorado Division of Wildlife testing site, 1715 N. Yampa Ave. CWD is a fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk, and is tested for by removing and examining the lymph nodes and tonsils.

Wasting disease numbers hard to measure

Decrease in harvest, submissions for testing make more recent numbers hard to qualify

photo

File photo

Deena Armstrong, right, removes a lymph node from a mule deer last year and hands it to Heather Bankie for testing. While the number of new cases of Chronic Wasting Disease don't show any large spreading in Colorado, officials are cautious not to call it a positive sign. The CWD testing site in north Craig has seen a decrease in animal harvest, as well as in the number of animals submitted for testing, which may have affected these numbers.

photo

File photo

Deena Armstrong reads an information tag about an elk last year at the DOW chronic wasting disease testing facility.

photo

File photo

A Division of Wildlife employee and a hunter remove the rack from an elk last year on North Yampa Avenue. When testing for chronic wasting disease, hunters keep the antlers and ivory while the lymph nodes and tonsils are removed and shipped to Fort Collins for testing.

— New information on Chronic Wasting Disease was released in August by the Colorado Department of Wildlife, and while the numbers of new cases in animals didn't show any large spreading of the disease, state and local officials are cautious not to call the numbers a positive sign.

"I think the only thing we can say for certain is that the disease isn't spreading quickly," DOW Public Information Officer Randy Hampton said. "The big question is 'what exactly does that mean?'"

According to the report, Chronic Wasting Disease is a naturally-occurring disease that affects the brain of North American cervids (or species of the deer family). It has spread in Colorado from the Fort Collins area to animals throughout the state. CWD became a popular wildlife health issue since the early '80s when it was first detected in the area.

The survey, which was conducted from 2004-06, showed that CWD is "relatively well-established and widely distributed in Colorado."

One case of CWD has been detected in 20 of 55 deer data analysis units, 12 of 46 elk unites and two of four moose units.

What the new data showed is that in Northwest Colorado, the disease does exist, but it only showed up in one percent of the animals tested for elk and mule deer north of Craig. In some areas south of Craig, one to five percent of the mule deer were found to have the disease.

"The numbers aren't getting any bigger," Hampton said. "In the core area (Fort Collins) the numbers are at five percent but that percentage isn't going anywhere else."

At the CWD testing site on Highway 13/Yampa Avenue in north Craig, DOW Wildlife Technician Tyler Jacox said there were a number of factors that contributed to the findings.

"We can't be certain that numbers of positive animals are increasing or decreasing just from those numbers," he said. "We've had a decrease in animal harvest as well as a decrease in animals getting tested. That very well could be a reason we don't see growth."

Jacox said animals from Steamboat Springs, Hot Sulphur Springs, Meeker and Moffat County are brought to the Craig testing site. According to his numbers, there has been a 10 percent decrease in testing each year.

"Testing was intense initially (the first animal with CWD was found in 2002) when it was found that animals in the area had the disease," he said. "But now, people seem to become less interested in getting their animal heads tested."

Part of the complacency could be because there has been no data to show that humans are in danger of contracting the disease if they eat the meat of an infected animal.

"The center for disease control and the Colorado health department have found no evidence or link that CWD is a threat to human health," Hampton said.

Hampton said that since CWD has similar effects on deer as Mad Cow Disease does to cows, it was initially feared that CWD could be passed on to humans.

"There's no link in the two diseases," Hampton said.

So, that means good news and bad news for the DOW as it tries to track the disease.

The good news is that it is a disease that is contained within the cervids and so far has no link to human illness.

The bad news is that people are less inclined to take the animal heads for the $15 test if they aren't at risk.

"People don't care if their animal is positive anymore," Jacox said. "We're becoming more of a service for people who want to be on the safe side."

The fewer heads tested, the smaller the sample size for the CWD research.

"We don't really have a sufficient number of heads brought in," Hampton said. "We're counting on sportsmen to help us monitor and learn about the disease."

For more information and the study that was released in August, go to the DOW Web site at wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.