CWD find raises concerns
Outfitters, officials take steps to alleviate fears
Steamboat Springs — The latest discovery of chronic wasting disease in Northwest Colorado has Division of Wildlife officials and local outfitters taking steps to alleviate fears about its impact on the hunting season.
An injured cow elk euthanized north of Hayden tested positive for the disease this week, marking the first time an elk on the Western Slope has been identified with CWD.
“People do need to keep this in perspective,” said Todd Malmsbury, a spokesperson with the Division of Wildlife.
The disease has already been diagnosed in Routt County, he said.
Last April DOW officials killed more than 1,000 deer and elk within a five-mile radius of the Motherwell Elk Ranch southwest of Hayden after several mule deer tested positive for the fatal brain disease.
The animals were culled in an effort to stop the malady from spreading through the spring migration.
“(CWD) is not new,” Malmsbury said.
Ty Stewart, head hunting guide for 4+2T Ranch outside of Hayden, said the newest report of CWD should not warrant an anxious public reaction.
He believes the disease has existed in wild game for years. More intense testing has only brought to light what many people assumed to be true in Northwest Colorado and southeast Wyoming.
“It’s been here since time,” he said.
Malmsbury said biologists do not yet know how or where the elk contacted the disease. DOW officials destroyed the animal Sept. 6 because its lower jaw was badly injured and prevented it from eating.
The injured elk was found 10 miles north of Hayden and sent to Colorado State University for testing.
A lab test is an excellent way to bring peace of mind to wary hunters, Malmsbury said.
For $17, hunters can drop off their kill’s head at the Craig Warehouse or Steamboat DOW office for testing. DOW employee Valerie Cass reminded hunters to remove the antlers and bring their conservation certificate and hunting license with them.
Hunters get results in two to three weeks, and DOW officials get a larger sample of animals to study, she said.
“We would hope that a number of hunters in the area would volunteer for testing,” Malmsbury said. “It’s prudent.”
Outfitters agree the harder people look for the disease, the more likely they are to find it.
But the number of animals that test negative for CWD will still dwarf the number of animals that yield positive results, Stewart said.
DOW estimates show between 5 and 10 percent of mule deer are infected with the disease in Northwest Colorado and southeast Wyoming, Malmsbury said. Less than 1 percent of elk are infected with the disease.
“It’s much more common in deer than elk,” he said.
CWD is a neurological disease found in deer and elk. No documented cases have shown a connection between CWD and humans.
That’s something local outfitter Louis Rabin hopes hunters keep in mind. But he is still urging his hunters to have their game checked.
The DOW’s inexpensive tests help to quiet any concerns about the disease, he said, because hunters have viable proof their game has not been infected.
Rabin owns and operates Five Springs Ranch Guide and Outfitters ten miles south of Steamboat Springs. Despite the latest discovery, it’s business as usual for the outfitting operation.
Hunters who heard the news have called Rabin to discuss their upcoming trips. Rabin is honest with them and encourages them to not cancel their plans.
“I try to tell my people that they should not worry and to come on and go hunt,” he said.
Outfitters are optimistic about the hunting season but concerned that anxiety about the most recent CWD discovery could wield a devastating blow to the hunting industry in Northwest Colorado.
“It’s certainly not going to help,” Rabin said.
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