Boulder County a CWD hot spot; Site's infection rate worst in state

April 12, 2002 The Denver Post by Jim Hughes
BOULDER - After learning that a parcel of county-owned open space was home to the worst outbreak of chronic wasting disease in the state, county commissioners on Thursday approved state wildlife officials' request to shoot deer on that land.

New data from studies near Rabbit Mountain in the northern part of Boulder County show that more than 20 percent of the deer there may be infected by the disease, according to the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Across the region, the average rate of infection is about 5 percent. Previously, the worst scenarios saw 10 percent to 15 percent of a particular area's deer contracting the disease, according to wildlife officials. The malady strikes the brain, causing deer and elk to literally waste away. That's why wildlife officials were back in Boulder on Thursday, less than a month after gaining permission to capture and kill deer using traps and nets. Sharpshooters can kill animals more efficiently, they said, and greater speed could prove crucial to the state's effort to get ahead of the growing epidemic.

Rabbit Mountain is on the southern edge of the area known to be infected by chronic wasting disease, said Dave Clarkson, a CWD specialist with the Division of Wildlife. That makes the outbreak especially worrisome, he said.

'If we've got a hot spot right there, we don't want that spreading,' he said.

If unchecked, the disease could spread south into more Boulder County Open Space land - land that the Division of Wildlife says so far hasn't been hit by the disease - and worse, east via the South Platte River, an animal-migration corridor, he said.

Last week, officials found infected deer near Craig, which confirmed their worst fears: Chronic wasting disease had made it onto the Western Slope, a region whose economy depends on hunting.

On Tuesday, Gov. Bill Owens convened a chronic wasting disease task force. He's currently reaching out to other Western governors to see what kind of regional remedies might be possible.

Commissioners Paul Danish and Ron Stewart voted to approve wildlife officials' request to use sharpshooters. Commissioner Jana Mendez, voting on behalf of a small but emotional contingent of citizens who came to Thursday's meeting to oppose the measure, voted no.

Those citizens and Mendez said they worried that high-powered rifles would disturb the birds of prey that nest nearby, and that shooting random deer in the area, instead of only those known to be infected, seemed unnecessary.

Denver Post staff writer Theo Stein contributed to this report.

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