Agency takes control of elk imports Wildlife Division imposes ban despite objections

January 11, 2002 The Denver Post by Theo Stein
The Colorado Division of Wildlife took back control over elk imports at a bruising state Wildlife Commission meeting Thursday and imposed an immediate ban on elk from any herd not monitored for chronic wasting disease for at least five years.

The state Agriculture Department will still ensure that arriving elk are free from tuberculosis, brucellosis and other cattle diseases. But the division can now deny imported elk that it thinks might carry the long-incubating fatal brain malady. The unanimous vote by the Colorado Wildlife Commission brushed aside concerns of elk ranchers, who argued that the new 60-month requirement amounted to a total ban. No elk herds in the country currently meet that requirement, although several Colorado herds will in 12 months.

The commission, led by Director Russ George, rode roughshod over the objections of Dr. Wayne Cunningham, the state veterinarian, who said his office is required to protect cattle ranchers from elk-borne diseases.

'This puts the entire livestock industry at risk,' he said.

George sharply reminded Cunningham that the division's proposal would not diminish his authority but would require elk ranchers to get a second permit from the DOW.

The two agencies have quietly been working on a memorandum of understanding to spell out their respective roles in the import-approval process, but Thursday's rancor suggests that amity may be elusive.

'Maybe Ag and DOW should go to mediation,' suggested Jere Goodman, who runs cattle and elk on a spread east of Sterling.

Division staff had become increasingly alarmed in recent months that agriculture officials had continued to let elk into the state without first consulting them, despite the wasting-disease emergency.

Officials for the Agriculture Department and elk ranchers maintain that the biggest threat is the uncontrolled epidemic in wild deer and elk herds in five northeastern counties.

The agency's resolve solidified when it learned in January that the assistant state veterinarian let in a herd of 120 Montana elk to restock one of the quarantined herds slated for slaughter in North Park, which sits on a major deer migration route.

On Monday, the alternative livestock board rejected the DOW's proposed import requirement because it would hurt elk ranchers financially, but the recommendation was nonbinding.

Thursday, commissioners zeroed in on that claim.

'How much business is really going out of business?' asked commissioner Robert Shoemaker. 'How many elk are you short?'

'That is a tough question,' answered Ron Walker, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association, who couldn't say how many.

State elk breeders imported several hundred animals in 2000, mainly for hunting and to improve herd genetics. The captive elk herd numbers about 15,000, though 1,500 elk will be killed in the next few months in an attempt to control the wasting disease outbreak.

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