Elk Rancher Faces Tough Times

October 5, 2001 The Pueblo Chieftain by Erin Smith
DEL NORTE, Colo.--Rich Forrest, owner of the 240-acre Anta Grande Elk Ranch, could lose his livelihood soon.

His 400-head elk herd faces slaughter because one of his animals died recently of chronic wasting disease. The female elk, purchased last year from the Stoneham elk ranch in northeastern Colorado, had borne a calf that also died, apparently due to lack of milk. The dead cow was found to have had chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease that has been found in wild deer and elk in portions of northeastern Colorado, southeastern Wyoming and extreme northwestern Nebraska.

According to Colorado Division of Wildlife veterinarian Mike Miller, the disease "has never been found in wild herds anywhere in southern or western Colorado." But as a precaution, the DOW intends to remove a small number of deer and elk -- probably no more than 24 -- from the area around Anta Grande.

Miller said the DOW does not expect to find the disease in the small number of deer and elk living near Anta Grande.

"We're taking this action both as a precaution and to allow us to test these animals for CWD," Miller said.

The Agriculture Department quarantined Anta Grande along with two other ranches elsewhere in Colorado. Forrest said he has not received official word that his herd will be slaughtered, but has told authorities that if the animals are to be killed, he won't allow it on the ranch.

"I have a 9-year-old who's attached to these guys," Forrest said this week.

No test has been developed for chronic wasting disease on a live animal. The animal has to be slaughtered and the brain stem removed for testing. The disease has been around for about 40 years and little research has been done, he said.

"Only five animals (of 14,000 domestic elk) have been diagnosed with CWD in all of Colorado," Forrest said. "Some 122 of mine are regarded as of high risk to exposure."

His ranch only had one animal with the disease and it was imported from outside the San Luis Valley, he said. (The state's domestic elk herds originated from DOW herds.)

There are about six elk ranches in the valley, but there are no indications their elk have been infected.

Forrest, who has owned Anta -- the word means "elk" in Spanish -- Grande since 1997, was in the elk ranching business in the Stoneham area before coming here. He is a geologist and has been an elk rancher for 10 years.

He said he came here because "this is a good place to raise elk."

He hopes that if his herd has to be slaughtered, knowledge can be gained that will be useful and perhaps prevent another elk rancher from suffering as he and his family are. Perhaps someday there will be a vaccine to prevent the disease.

"Right now, we are in limbo and the costs are ongoing," Forrest said.

Forrest raises elk primarily for their antlers, a renewable crop. The majority of the antlers are used in Asia for medicines. But with the quarantine, he can't sell the antlers either.

Meat is a secondary product for the ranch. However, it fulfills two market demands, for those who do not hunt but want game meat (selling wild game is illegal) and for religious groups such as Hindus who are prohibited from eating beef.

"The DOW has a monopoly on game meat. It is illegal to sell game meat," Forrest said, adding that the game meat "is the most healthful meat you can get."

and the only source for some people is domestic herds.

Forrest said elk that aren't breeders or good antler producers can be slaughtered at a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility. After the brain stem is tested by an independent laboratory, the meat can be sold; only such freshly slaughtered elk can be used for meat.

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