Local CWD site tests more than 4,000 samples
California resident Dave Krawchuk has come to Craig to hunt for the past four years.
For the first time this year, he decided to have his animal tested for chronic wasting disease.
He was at the chronic wasting disease sample-removal site in Craig Thursday afternoon, dropping off his deer head.
“I wasn’t aware of it before,” he said of the disease. “But I’ve been hearing about it in the news, and even though there’s no proof of it infecting humans, I thought it would be a good idea.”
It’s worth the $17, he said.
“Why take the chance?” he said. “I don’t want to be that first person that does get it.”
Krawchuk is not alone. Since the lab opened two months ago in Craig, about 4,000 samples have been removed at the facility from animals that have been shot in Northwest Colorado.
So far, nine of the 4,000 samples that have been removed at the Craig site have tested positive for chronic wasting disease.
Hunters drop the animal heads off at the site, Division of Wildlife workers remove lymph nodes from the animal, and the sample is driven overnight to a laboratory at Colorado State University for testing.
Vicki Weber, administrative assistant for the site set up at the Craig Warehouse in Craig, said many who have visited the warehouse share a common theme.
“Many hunters that have been in here have said, ‘My wife told me not to bring it home this year unless I have it tested,'” she said.
Before this year, chronic wasting disease was not an issue outside of the endemic area near Fort Collins where the disease had been known to exist for years.
But the disease was discovered to have jumped the Continental Divide last spring when wild mule deer were discovered to have the disease at the Motherwell Elk Ranch south of Hayden.
Anticipating a concerned hunting population, the Colorado Division of Wildlife scrambled to develop a plan to expand its testing capabilities to reach hunters statewide.
Officials decided to have sample-removal sites set up throughout the state from which samples could be driven to testing laboratories.
One of those sites was placed in Craig.
So far, it has been a smooth operation, Weber said.
“Considering we decided to do this about 90 days ago, it’s come together very fast,” she said. “It’s been very smooth. We’ve got it figured out.”
If a hunter has already removed the head from the animal, the hunter only has to spend about five minutes at the site, she said.
Add another five minutes to that total if division employees have to saw the head off or remove the antlers, she said.
All hunters need to do is drop the head off, pay $17 and provide information on what kind of an animal is being dropped off, what sex it is, what date it was killed and the location where it was killed.
“It’s very important that they know the location,” Weber said. “That’s how the division tracks where the positive and negative animals are.”
After dropping the head off, a hunter will get a call within two weeks if the animal tests positive.
Hunters can call an 800 number for results or check the Colorado Division of Wildlife Web site.
The 4,000 total heads is indication that the site has benefited Craig’s economy, which relies heavily on money spent by out-of-state hunters, Weber said.
“Giving people the opportunity to have their animals tested and put their minds at ease has helped with the hunter turnout this fall,” she said.
Once information is collected from the hunter, he or she drops the head off with the laboratory technicians removing the lymph node samples.
The samples are filed, and heads are dropped in barrels and dumped in an incinerator set up on site that burns heads at temperatures between 1,500 and 1,800 degrees.
The ash is then taken to the Moffat County Landfill.
Samples are taken from an area spanning from Hayden west to the Utah border, and from the Wyoming border south to Rio Blanco County.
About 10 people man the site, taking hunter information and removing samples.
Some are Division of Wildlife employees, some are temporary workers, and some are volunteers.
The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week and from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the rifle seasons.
The only days officials intend to close the site is Christmas Day and Thanksgiving, Weber said.
Seven deer have tested positive and two elk in Northwest Colorado this fall.
The elk were killed near Hayden and north of Buford.
Chronic wasting disease, fatal in deer and elk, is a relative of the disease scrapie that infects sheep, and mad cow disease in cattle.
Unlike mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease is not yet known to infect humans, but the possibility has not been ruled out.
Kate Larsen, a mammals research laboratory technician, has been removing samples in Fort Collins for the DOW since 1997.
The spread of the disease relocated her in Craig for this hunting season.
“There’s definite job security these days in being able to remove lymph nodes,” she joked while removing a sample Thursday.
Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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