Most hunters pass up CWD test

October 11, 2002 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) by Gary Gerhardt
Early in the new hunting year, far fewer hunters are having their deer and elk tested for chronic wasting disease than anticipated by state wildlife officials.

As the first rifle season begins Saturday, only about one in five archers and muzzleloaders - whose hunting dates just concluded - submitted their animals for testing.

The state is geared up to test as many as 50,000 animals over the course of the season - which stretches in its different categories from Aug. 31 to Dec. 14.

While the exact number of animals taken by archers and muzzleloaders won't be known until after the first of the year, if it is comparable to last year when 9,228 were killed, the 1,760 tested this year would only be about 19 percent of the total. "But . . . if 300,000 hunters kill 100,000 animals in total this year, and 20 percent have them tested, it still would be 20,000 animals - which would be significant for our effort to establish where in the state the disease is found," said state Division of Wildlife spokesman Todd Malmsbury.

"It's our hope in the next few years to collect 300 samples from all 54 data analysis units in the state so we can establish exactly where the disease has spread and what areas can be considered clean."

The state intensified its testing for the always fatal brain disease after it was discovered last spring on the Western Slope, where it was believed not to exist.

Malmsbury said more positive animals are expected to be found in areas where the disease has already been documented.

"But if we start seeing them in Durango or Pagosa Springs, that will be something very alarming," he said.

CWD is in the family of brain maladies that includes mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

There is no proof that humans can contract CWD by eating venison.

However, because the possibility of such a link exists, the state vastly expanded testing so that hunters can be sure their game is CWD-free before eating it.

Last year the results of those tests were sometimes months in coming.

This year, Colorado State University set up a system employing labs in Grand Junction and Rocky Ford in additional to Fort Collins to analyze the samples, and it is determined to get results to the hunter within a week to 10 days.

"During the archery and muzzleloader season, we received 1,760 heads for testing," said Barb Powers, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Center at Colorado State University.

Wildlife division records show 14 tested positive - 10 in the endemic area in northeastern Colorado, one from the Chatfield area southwest of Denver, and three from western Colorado.

Powers said the best news from the archery-muzzleloading season was an experimental rapid test called ELISA, or Enzyme Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay, which takes only 24 hours to complete - as opposed to four or five days for the old method.

She said the new test proved to be 100 percent reliable.

The only glitch, she said, was getting computers in the testing labs to communicate with the wildlife division's Web page so that hunters could check their results.

Jeff Ver Steeg, state terrestrial game manager, said, "We feel archery and muzzleloader season was a pilot shakedown for Saturday which, thankfully, is only for about 36,000 special elk hunters."

"We found a few things that needed to be tweaked, including that we got backed up on collecting heads from some of the drop barrels and with the warm weather, it hurt the sample quality.

"Now we have more volunteers to collect them, and cooler weather should help as well."

The three major combined deer and elk seasons open Oct. 19 and run through Nov. 13, with the bulk of testing demand coming then.

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