Advisory group asks public to weigh in on management of CWD in Northwest Colorado | CraigDailyPress.com

Advisory group asks public to weigh in on management of CWD in Northwest Colorado

A mule deer buck with chronic wasting disease.

CRAIG — Management of Chronic Wasting Disease was the topic of discussion during a public meeting hosted July 2 by Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the CWD Advisory Group as part of a process to generate ideas and public support to manage the disease.

"I need to hear from you and where we need to be going with this. Without community support, we are not going to manage it," said CPW Northwest Regional Manager JT Romatzke.

About 30 citizens and an almost equal number of agency representatives, including the advisory group — comprised of CPW managers, CPW commissioners and a variety of stakeholders — listened to a presentation about current CWD findings and had questions answered about the potential effects the disease may have on local ungulate populations.

"About half of Colorado's deer herd and about a third of Colorado's elk herd are infected," said CPW Terrestrial Section Manager Craig McLaughlin.

CWD belongs to a family of rare, progressive neurodegenerative disorders called prion diseases — transmissible spongiform encephalopathies — that affect both humans and animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The same source states the transmissible pathogen induces abnormal folding of specific normal cellular proteins called prion proteins, found most abundantly in the brain. This improper protein folding leads to brain damage that is almost always fatal, but, to date, there have been no reported cases of CWD infections in humans.

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"CWD has reared its ugly head again and is now a real issue nationwide," said Moffat County Commissioner Don Cook, who is also part of the advisory group.

Recent sampling research has shown the prevalence of the diseases in some parts of Northwest Colorado increased from about 1 to 2 percent in early 2002 through 2004 to an average of 15 percent in 2017, McLaughlin said.

Elimination of the disease will be fruitless until researchers develop ways to remove prions from the environment. Therefore, CPW's primary goal is to lower the disease in high-prevalence herds and prevent an increase in low-prevalence herds.

Management will focus on deer, due to the higher prevalence of the disease in that species, McLaughlin said. He added this should minimize the spread of the disease and secure long-term sustainability of deer herds.

Hunter harvest will be the primary management tool, and that likely means increasing the number of bucks killed by offering more licenses — or redistributing licenses — for each hunting season.

"One reason we asked for public help is that we want to see other options than just killing deer," said outfitter and advisory group member Chris Jurney.

A statewide plan is being created to set thresholds to trigger action, but it is hoped that public participation will help management efforts be locally driven and targeted.

In addition to any management prescriptions adopted, mandatory testing for the disease will rotate to different areas of the state on a three- to five-year cycle to ensure most herds are sampled regularly.

In 2018, mandatory testing will be deployed across four mule deer herd units — the Bears Ears, Middle Park, State Bridge and Grand Mesa herds. In Northwest Colorado, this will affect hunters participating in second, third and fourth rifle seasons in Game Management Units 3, 4, 5, 14, 214, 301, 421, 18, 27, 28, 37, 181 and 371.

Voluntary testing will continue to be offered to all hunters for deer or elk for a fee of $25 per animal. This fee will be waived in the White River herd area — game management units 11, 12, 13, 23, 24, 22, 211, 131 and 231 — to encourage testing in an area of high CWD prevalence.

For more information, see the CPW 2018 Colorado Big Game Hunting Regulations.

Advisory group recommendations are expected to become final by the end of the year to allow CWP to include them in herd management plans and help inform the State Wildlife Commission as it makes decisions about five-year hunting plans and 2019 strategies.

Changes in herd management may take a minimum of three years — and, more likely, five to 10 years — to have an effect on the disease’s prevalence, Romatzke said.

Hunters, outfitters, business owners and the community at large are encouraged to engage in the process by sending questions or recommendations to the group at askcwdadvisorygroup@state.co.us.

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.