Report: Nine elk untested for CWD |

Report: Nine elk untested for CWD

Susan Cunningham

New information released by state officials indicates animals from an elk ranch where chronic wasting disease was identified were not tested for the disease, and that a fence may not be adequately separating wild and captive elk.

Nine of the 85 elk that died on the Motherwell Ranch south of Craig were not tested for chronic wasting disease as required by state policy, according to a Colorado Department of Agriculture report released Wednesday.

The report also shows that by 2001, within the ranch’s first few months of operation, eight elk were missing and presumed dead. Also, several wild elk have been found within the ranch’s fences, said state Department of Agriculture Policy Director Jim Miller.

“What we are assuming from that is that, at some point, there was either a breach in the fence or somehow a snowdrift or something like that allowed elk to get in there,” he said. “That’s a matter of great concern because if they can get in, there’s a possibility that they can get out, so the fence is not doing its job.”

The findings come a month after a bull elk on the 1,800-acre ranch tested positive for the disease, and the state Department of Agriculture, which has regulatory authority over the ranch, quarantined its remaining 209 captive elk.

The Department of Agriculture’s No. 1 priority is to depopulate the ranch’s herd, Miller said. Conversations among the department, ranch management and the state veterinarian are under way, but details could not be released, Miller said.

Of the nine untested Motherwell Ranch elk that died between Sept. 1, 2000, and Nov. 11, 2003, five were killed by hunters and the other four died of natural causes, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s recent inventory. The rest of the elk that died during that period were tested for the disease: All tests came back negative.

The 4-year-old bull elk found with the disease died Dec. 25 and was tested Jan. 5, Miller said. Because of the date of the elk’s death, it was not included in the updated inventory.

That some animals that died were not tested is “curious,” Miller said.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture has to assume that the animals were not tested, he said, but there are other possible explanations: The elk killed by hunters could have been tested and the results lost by state offices, or the elk that died naturally could have been found too late to take a sample, he said.

The eight elk that turned up missing in 2001 could have been hunted by mistake while Motherwell Ranch established its herd, Miller said. Another possibility is that the elk escaped, he said.

Ranch owner Wes Adams, a Las Vegas contractor, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Motherwell Ranch inventory was released along with information that several wild elk were found recently within the fenced-off portion of the ranch.

Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said seven wild elk have been removed from inside the fences of Motherwell Ranch this year. When wild animals are found on a domestic ranch, either through communication with ranch managers or aerial surveillance, DOW policy requires the wild animals to be killed to prevent the spread of diseases, Malmsbury said.

Tests for chronic wasting disease on four of those elk came back negative, with results on the other three pending, Malmsbury said.

The Motherwell bull elk is not the first in Northwest Colorado to be found with the disease, which is thought to be caused by an abnormally folded protein that eats holes in its victims’ brains, killing them.

In 2002, several wild mule deer that had been trapped inside the fences of the Motherwell Ranch were the first cases of chronic wasting disease on Colorado’s Western Slope. When those were found, DOW officials killed more than 1,000 deer and elk within a 5-mile radius of the ranch.

Since then, multiple wild deer and elk have been found infected with the disease throughout Northwest Colorado. Infected captive elk were found at a ranch in North Park in 2002.

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