Elk ranchers offered indemnity;
$2.6 million would compensate them for destroying ill herds

September 28, 2001 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) by Joe Garner
Commercial elk ranchers in Colorado and four other states will be offered $2.6 million in federal compensation for elimination of their herds, which already are quarantined to control chronic wasting disease, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Thursday.

About 1,100 privately owned elk cannot be moved from three Colorado ranches under the terms of the ban imposed by the state Department of Agriculture. Another 400 animals are quarantined on ranches in Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and South Dakota. A few of the 1,500 elk already have been put down, but large-scale destruction is scheduled to begin next week, agriculture officials said. Compensation will depend on appraisals, based on fair market value of the animals, but ranchers will have to bear the cost of slaughtering their herds and disinfecting afterward.

"These ranchers are suffering, not only economically, but also emotionally," said Dr. Wayne Cunningham, state veterinarian.

The federal program will benefit elk ranchers "as long as the compensation keeps coming," said Ron Walker, president of the 150-member Colorado Elk Breeders Association. Colorado breeders also contribute annually to a state indemnification fund, which contains about $196,000 and might be paid out before federal indemnification kicks in.

Elk are raised commercially for their meat and antlers, which are used in medicines, and for hunting.

Walker said breeders expect more federal money to be allocated for surveillance of the disease and indemnification of ranchers in the next federal fiscal year, which begins Monday.

The Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence deer and elk affected with chronic wasting disease are a risk to humans. However, chronic wasting disease is related to the family of illnesses that includes mad cow disease, which killed about 100 Europeans who ate infected beef earlier this year.

Cunningham, the state veterinarian, said he will recommend the Colorado Captive Wildlife and Alternative Livestock Board take action Monday to go ahead with the destruction of the state's 1,100 quarantined elk, probably by the middle of next week.

Two elk imported from Saskatchewan and a herd of about 30 from near Longmont will be put down and necropsied at Colorado State University, Cunningham said. A herd of 400 near Del Norte in southern Colorado will be the first to be destroyed in the field, probably by being shot and incinerated.

The board ranked the southern Colorado herd first to be destroyed on site in a move to contain chronic wasting disease to northeastern Colorado, where it had previously been contained. The state Division of Wildlife estimates the disease infects up to 15 percent of the elk and deer in a swath from west of Estes Park to the Nebraska border.

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