May 7, 2002 The Denver Post by Charlie MeyersJust in case there's anyone out there who doesn't consider the situation involving chronic wasting disease serious enough, consider the current state of affairs in Wisconsin, the only state east of the Mississippi River infected by the malady.
Wildlife officials aim to remove as many as 25,000 deer from a 'hot zone' in the southeast part of the state around the capital, Madison, during the upcoming fall hunting season. Failing that, they'll consider using airplanes and helicopters to eradicate animals in this 287-square-mile area where infestation is particularly high.
In Friday's Denver Post, environmental writer Theo Stein reported how Wisconsin officials plan to remove as many as 70,000 whitetail deer during a period of three years, a far more aggressive disease-limiting strategy than currently practiced by the Colorado Division of Wildlife over a broader endemic area. Whereas 14 wild deer have tested positive for the disease in Wisconsin, thousands are believed infected in a part of Colorado where the disease has been present for more than three decades. This area includes northern Boulder County and all of Larimer County, then extends out the South Platte River Valley into Nebraska. The infestation also exists in a corresponding area in southeastern Wyoming.
Colorado Division of Wildlife officials estimate 5 percent of deer and 1 percent of elk in the endemic area carry the neurological disease, which causes animals to grow thin and die. As many as 15 percent of deer are affected in certain local areas. There is no evidence CWD ever has been transmitted to humans or poses any public health risk, but it belongs to the same family of pathogens as the celebrated mad cow disease in Europe, hence a certain amount of alarm in certain media circles.
Wisconsin officials say they want the deer removed within a year in an attempt to eliminate infected animals that might contribute to the spread of the disease, as well as healthy animals that might become the next victims and perpetuate the cycle. The state wildlife agency also plans to test as many as 20,000 deer this year, provided laboratory facilities can be obtained.
Because of safety concerns and expense, aerial shooting would be used only as a last resort. However, officials are skeptical hunters effectively can accomplish the necessary culling during the fall season in an area dominated by private land.
This scenario is significant in that the Wisconsin outbreak involves a smaller area and far fewer animals than the CWD infestation in Colorado, where diseased deer also have been discovered recently on the Western Slope in southern Routt County.
DOW launched a similar plan authorizing extra permits and extended seasons to thin the herd and limit the disease, but stopped far short of an all-out thinning, perhaps as a result of protests from animal rights activists.
According to a story last week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin residents appear to support a hard-line assault on the disease under the logic that solid containment will save the lives of far more animals in the long run. More recently, Colorado has attempted to kill wild animals adjacent to infected commercial elk ranches.
As in Wisconsin, the larger concern for Colorado is CWD ultimately will spread across the state as a threat both to the state's precious wildlife resources and a hunting enterprise that pumps more than half a billion dollars into the economy.
Meanwhile, concerned entities outside official wildlife circles are poised to take a more proactive role in the battle against CWD. The Colorado Wildlife Federation, the state's largest conservation organization, has launched a campaign to help fund research through DOW and Colorado State University. Those who wish to contribute may do so to CWF at 445 Union Blvd., Suite 302, Lakewood, CO 80228. Questions and comments may be made to 303-987-0400.
Other suggestions from individuals are worthy of note. Kent Ingram, a veteran hunter from Littleton, suggests establishing a progressive private foundation to combat CWD, modeled after the highly successful Whirling Disease Foundation. The latter group, based in Bozeman, Mont., has been hugely effective in promoting an exchange of information and ideas among researchers and agencies. Such an innovation would require some individual, or group, seizing the initiative in what would be a demanding, and ultimately rewarding, organizational task.
Another idea from Ardys G. Entsminger of Denver touches on the fear factor involved in shooting, and eating, diseased animals.
'Why not turn adverse publicity to our advantage by offering to test all animals killed this fall?' Entsminger challenged DOW. He also suggests giving any hunter whose deer or elk tests positive another license and the opportunity to hunt again.