USDA may buy up to 245 elk Animals from Colorado ranch where brain malady found now in 15 states

October 13, 2001 The Denver Post by Theo Stein
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has offered to buy up to 245 ranched elk in 15 states traced to a Colorado elk ranch infected with chronic wasting disease.

States that received potentially infected Colorado elk include eight in the Great Lakes region, where enormous wild herds of Eastern white-tailed deer would be vulnerable to the epidemic.

Kim Smith, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the elk will be killed and tested for the infectious protein that causes the fatal brain-wasting malady. Since there is no live test for CWD, there's no way to tell how many of the elk shipped from to Elk Echo Ranch in Stoneham since 1997 would be likely to develop the disease, she said. This week, state and federal agriculture officials began identifying an additional 148 elk on 45 Colorado elk ranches as part of their effort to see how far the problem has penetrated the state's captive herds. Brain samples from the elk will be sent to a diagnostics lab in Fort Collins.

Agriculture officials will reimburse Colorado ranchers up to $ 3,000 for every animal destroyed in the initial investigation. Half will come from a self-insured fund supported by the state ranched elk industry, which is the second largest in the country.

But that will run out long before the 1,600 elk now quarantined on seven ranches, including Elk Echo, are destroyed. And that number could jump significantly in the next few months if any of the 148 elk targeted for testing actually have CWD.

Minnesota and Wisconsin, two of the states that received elk traced to Elk Echo, are also among top national elk producers. Neither has had a confirmed case of CWD. The other states caught in the investigation are Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Among those, only Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico do not have a chronic wasting disease monitoring program.

Chronic wasting disease has infected a small percentage of wild deer and elk in a 15,000-square mile area of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska for at least 30 years. While the disease has spread slowly in the wild, CWD carried by ranched elk has caused outbreaks in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Montana. It is not yet known what role Elk Echo played in those cases.

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