CWD found near deer route; Officials fear spread from elk pen

October 19, 2001 The Denver Post by Theo Stein
A second bull elk has tested positive for chronic wasting disease at a Cowdrey shooting park and wildlife officers now have killed more than 50 wild mule deer that might have mingled with the diseased animals inside a 640-acre pen.

Both of the bull elk that tested positive for the disease were bought from Elk Echo, a Stoneham ranch at the center of the worst outbreak of CWD in U.S. history. The pair were among 33 bulls purchased by the Trophy Mountain Elk Ranch, 22 miles north of Walden at the base of the Independence Mountains. 'Obviously, we know the disease is in the captive elk herd,' said Rick Kahn, wildlife management supervisor with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. 'Our concern is deer could leave the facility carrying the disease.'

Kahn said it's unclear if any deer have been infected, but since the ranch sits astride a major deer migration route in the Routt National Forest, 'clearly our attitude is we're not going to take any chances.'

Mark Mitchell, who owns the Trophy Mountain ranch, said the deer targeted by DOW officers have not mingled with the 'hunt bulls.'

'I will be very surprised if any deer have it,' said Mitchell, who said the threat of CWD has been blown out of proportion.

'The disease is controllable,' he said. 'We purchased 15 elk. Two of them were found to have early stages of the disease. The system in place has caught it in time. That's what it's set up to do.

'Fourteen years ago, we went through a tuberculosis epidemic, and it was much the same thing,' he added. 'They annihilated a few herds and we haven't had a problem since. I get a little bit offended when the Division of Wildlife says we're the problem when there's plenty of blame to go around.'

On Thursday, veterinary officials at the CSU diagnostic lab in Fort Collins had hoped to begin euthanizing and testing the first of 148 elk from 43 Colorado ranches that bought elk from Elk Echo before it was quarantined last summer.

But transportation problems forced them to postpone delivery of the first nine animals, from the Platte River Elk Ranch in Hillrose, until today. If one animal from a given ranch tests positive for the disease, the rest of the herd also will be quarantined.

Since 1998, at least seven elk have died of the fatal brain wasting malady after spending time at Elk Echo. State officials strongly suspect the ranch has been infected since 1995, even though the first CWD case at the ranch wasn't confirmed until 2000. The state CWD surveillance program, which is one of the most stringent in the country, depends on elk ranchers to report deaths and possible cases of the disease.

Over the next several months, about 1,400 elk on seven quarantined Colorado ranches will be killed and tested. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has offered to buy and test up to 245 ranched elk in 15 states traced to Elk Echo.

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