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Double fences suggested for CWD;
Panel recommendation angers some ranchers

October 4, 2002 The Denver Post by Brent Boyer 
Mandatory double fences around deer and elk ranches exposed to chronic wasting disease is just one in a series of recommendations an emergency task force will make to Gov. Bill Owens.

The recommendations come from six months of meetings by the task force, convened by Owens to review and improve the state's management of CWD issues.

The state Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife have agreed to the double-fencing recommendation. At its final meeting Thursday, the task force recommended immediate implementation of that element. However, not all members of the panel were satisfied with the proposal. Dick Steele, a Western Slope veterinarian and member of the Western Colorado Sportsmen's Council, said double fencing should be required for all game farms and wildlife parks by 2006.

On Thursday night, officials in Dane County, Wis., also advocated mandatory fencing. But elk ranchers said it would drive many ranchers out of business.

Under the fencing recommendation, ranches and wildlife parks known to be exposed to CWD or those whose animals have had possible contact with wild deer and elk populations would be required to double-fence their properties.

The 8-foot, woven-wire fences would add tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to the cost of ranching in an industry already struggling because of chronic wasting disease.

'I'm sure we'll continue to find game farms with (chronic wasting disease),' Steele said.

Ron Walker, head of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association, disagreed.

'Until the known transmissibility is found, they don't know that a double fence will stop it,' Walker said. 'Why do something until we know all the means of transmission? We're the victim here, not the cause.'

Steele also called for mandatory statewide testing of all cervids killed by hunters. He said more samples from around the state will help pinpoint CWD's status, which now is uncertain following the discovery of infected Western Slope animals.

Instead, the panel agreed to continue to expand the capacity of testing facilities.

Three cases of the fatal neurological disease have been found on the Western Slope since the hunting season began in late August, suggesting the disease has jumped the Continental Divide and spread farther than biologists previously thought.

The panel will recommend continued research and funding for a rapid CWD test, which could prevent the killing of thousands of deer and elk as officials attempt to grasp the scope of the disease.

'If (a live test is) effective, I would sure want to suggest that the implementation of it would be imperative' to controlling the disease, said Don Ament, state commissioner of agriculture.

The task force recommendations will soon be sent to the governor, Ament said. Owens will then decide what to do with the proposals and whether to reconvene the task force.

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