New Mexico commercial elk herd may be destroyed first

September 26, 2001 The Associated Press by

A New Mexico ranch was quarantined, and game officials banned importation of elk from several states and parts of Canada after an illness related to mad cow disease was found in Colorado.

Chronic wasting disease, or CWD, was found in a commercial elk herd at All American Antler Ranch in Merino, Colo. Those elk were to be destroyed in about two weeks to help contain the disease. In all, five Colorado ranches were quarantined, New Mexico game officials said. Larry Bell, director of the New Mexico Game and Fish Department, said the Pearson Ranch near Horse Springs, southwest of Datil in western New Mexico, has been quarantined, and New Mexico has banned importation of elk from Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and Canada's Saskatchewan Province.

"We're taking every step possible to protect the state's wildlife resources," Bell said.

Pearson Ranch owner Marvin Cromwell could not be located for immediate comment. There was no telephone listing for the ranch. A Game and Fish Department news release said Cromwell lists an Albuquerque address. There was no answer at a Cromwell residence in Rio Rancho, an Albuquerque suburb.

According to the Game and Fish Department, Cromwell has offered to have all animals on his property tested for CWD. Live animal testing for CWD is impossible.

In Colorado, rancher Rick Forrest said he will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars unless federal money is found to compensate him.

"I'm the unfortunate one that has the problem," said Forrest, who raises elk near Del Norte, 160 miles southeast of Denver in the San Luis Valley.

Two other commercial herds also will be destroyed, one near Longmont and another near Stoneham in Weld County, Colo.

An estimated 700 elk will probably need to be killed at the All American Antler Ranch in Merino, the New Mexico officials said.

New Mexico has at least 80,000 elk roaming, they said. The state has been testing herds for CWD for two years without finding any trace of the disease.

Now, said Bell, the state will convene a committee of experts to review the situation involving CWD, which belongs to a group of illnesses known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, which include mad cow disease.

Panelists will include Cromwell and Bell as well as the state veterinarian, someone from the attorney general's office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarian and Kerry Mower, animal health expert with the department. They will conduct an assessment and determine the best steps to take.

Colorado officials said last week the herds include a total of about 850 elk. It was unclear whether all the animals would be destroyed.

Chronic wasting disease is a degenerative disorder that attacks the brains of deer and elk. It causes unsteadiness, excessive slobbering, confusion and death.

There are no documented cases of the disease infecting humans, but it is closely related to mad cow disease, which has killed about 100 Europeans.

The Colorado Captive Wildlife and Alternative Livestock Board decided Monday to destroy Forrest's herd first.

The board, made up of elk breeders, employees of the state Division of Wildlife and Department of Agriculture, will meet again Monday to decide the schedule for destroying the herds.

Officials are waiting to see if the U.S. Department of Agriculture will approve $2.2 million in compensation for the three Colorado ranchers and one in Oklahoma.

Only about $196,000 is available in the elk ranchers' self-insurance fund to divide among the three with quarantined herds.

Elk are raised for meat or for their velvety spring antlers, which can fetch as much as $70 per pound as a nutritional supplement.

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