‘Endemic’ and economics
Larimer County reports minimal impact on business from CWD
A public official and business owner in Larimer County, where the chronic disease infection rate in wild deer and elk in some areas is between 10 and 14 percent, said Wednesday the disease has not impacted revenue generated from hunting in the area.
“Our economy is not based on hunting like it is in Northwest Colorado,” said Larimer County Commissioner Tom Bender. “Our hunting here is not as good as yours, so I understand the concern of people in your area. But we haven’t seen a decrease in the number of hunters that hunt here.”
Chronic wasting disease, which attacks the central nervous system of deer and elk causing them to die, has been in Larimer County for about 30 years.
The disease was recently discovered in wild mule deer south of Hayden.
More than 1,000 deer and elk have been killed in that area since the discovery, but no elk have tested positive for CWD and the infection rate in the deer herd is less than 1 percent.
Because of the high infection rate in Larimer County, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has taken efforts in recent years to reduce deer and elk populations in that area, hoping to eradicate the disease.
Bender said some community members are concerned about the toll the eradication effort is taking on wild game herds, which he estimated has been going on for five years.
“Some ranchers north of town say they are beginning to see a decrease in the deer population,” he said. “Whether it’s doing any good, nobody really knows.”
But nothing has changed in the area as far as people who still want to hunt, Bender said.
Bender, who also is a hunter, said people just comply with what the Division of Wildlife asks them to do.
The DOW asks that all hunters turn in the heads of animals in the area for testing.
“The hunting has stayed steady,” Bender said. “We just keep turning in the heads and cooperating with them (DOW).”
People just turn in the meat to the local processors, Bender said.
“Processors here just process the meat and turn in the heads,” he said. “The packers don’t hold on to it. It’s up to the people to decide if they want to eat the meat or wait until the test is back. It takes six weeks to two months to get the results back. Processors don’t want to hold on to it for that length of time.”
Barbara McConnell, owner of Reliable Game Processing in Fort Collins, said her business has not seen any change since the label “endemic” was put on the area.
“I thought it would affect us more than it has,” she said. “I don’t think it has affected us at all. Our business has not gone down.”
McConnell estimated her business processed 1,000 deer last hunting season, which is good, she said.
“I make it clear to people that we can’t just let meat hang and wait for them to get their tests back. That can take from seven days to six months,” she said. “If they want to have their meat processed, they have to drop it off, pick it up then keep it in their freezer while they wait for the results. My customers have been exceptional about doing that.”
Some people who don’t want to process an animal until they know it is negative for CWD take a different approach, McConnell said.
“If they want to wait for the tests they can quarter it and keep it in the freezer in their home,” she said. “But most people say go ahead and process it.”
And some people don’t think twice about the disease, she said.
“Some people say ‘it doesn’t matter if it has chronic wasting disease, we’re going to eat it anyway,'” she said. “But some are more cautious.”
Because the disease has been in the area for 30 years, McConnell said her business probably had CWD-positive animals coming through before they even knew the disease existed.
She estimated that five CWD-positive animals of the 1,000 she processed last year passed through her plant.
McConnell said she and her employees clean the area after each animal is processed, which is about all they can do.
“We used to cut the skull caps off for them,” she said. “The disease is in the central nervous system, which is why we do not cut the skull caps or cut through the spinal column.”
But that has been the only change in McConnell’s business, she said, except for the fact that business has increased slightly since the CWD scare.
“Business has been increasing because of the number of deer tags they’ve been issuing to eliminate this disease,” she said. “We know that has to come to a halt at some time.”
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