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Elk found with CWD

Division of Wildlife spokesman calls Routt County case 'rare'

Josh Nichols

A cow elk killed north of Hayden has tested positive for chronic wasting disease.

The elk, killed by Steamboat Springs Division of Wildlife employees because of reports that it was injured, is the first elk diagnosed with the disease on the Western Slope.

The discovery was made about 20 miles north of where 10 wild mule deer were discovered to have the fatal disease in April in and around the Motherwell Elk Ranch south of Hayden.

Those discoveries were made as part of a mass culling effort in which more than 1,000 deer and hundreds of elk were killed after the disease was initially found in two deer in the area.

While officials were disappointed last summer to see that the disease was in the wild on the Western Slope, they remained upbeat because no elk tested positive in an area known for its big game hunting, particularly elk.

“We hope it’s not well established in Routt County,” said Todd Malmsbury, spokesperson for the DOW. “The results we have seen so far do not suggest that.”

Malmsbury said the division received a report from a hunter in early September about an elk in the area that appeared to be injured.

Officials were unable to locate the elk, but later returned to the area after another reported spotting.

Officials found and killed the animal on Sept. 6 about 30 yards off of the intersection of County Road 56 and County Road 80 near the Cottonwood Creek drainage, said Susan Werner, the area wildlife manager with the Division of Wildlife in Steamboat Springs.

Malmsbury said it is routine for DOW officials to kill animals in the wild that are injured.

“It had a badly injured lower jaw that was preventing it from eating,” Malmsbury said. “We’re not sure what caused that.”

After the animal was killed, the head was submitted to the CWD sample removal site in Craig, then sent to Fort Collins for testing.

Confirmation came this week that the animal had tested positive for the disease.

Werner said even though the animal appeared to be thin, local officials had no suspicions of CWD when they submitted the head for testing.

It was submitted as part of the surveillance program the DOW has undertaken since the disease was discovered in the deer last spring.

“It came as a total surprise when we heard it tested positive,” she said. “We were pretty sure the thinness was a result of the broken jaw and the animal not being able to eat.”

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, who serves on the Colorado Wildlife Commission, was disappointed at the news.

“We were disappointed last spring that it was found in deer, but we kept saying to this date we don’t have any elk with the disease,” she said. “That’s what’s concerning.”

Malmsbury said it’s rare to find the disease in elk.

In the CWD endemic area north of Fort Collins where up to 15 percent of deer have been discovered to have the disease in certain areas, only about 1 percent of elk have been discovered to carry the disease, he said.

“It is rare to find this disease in elk even in the established areas,” he said.

The division will not take any action at this time because rifle season is about to begin, he said.

“We believe we’ll get a large number of samples,” he said. “If it happened in February or March, we might take a different management approach like culling or a special hunting season. But there’s going to be thousands of hunters out soon and we’ll get enough samples.”

Raftopoulos said the division is geared up to take samples and test animals this fall and is encouraging those hunters concerned about

the disease to have their animals tested.

Chronic wasting disease is a neurological disorder that eats holes in the brains of deer and elk.

There is no evidence that the fatal disease can be transmitted to humans or livestock, but scientists have not ruled out the possibility.

Prior to last April, the disease had never been discovered in any animal west of the continental divide.

With the recent discovery in the elk north of Hayden, it has now been discovered in both wild deer and elk in Northwest Colorado.


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