So far, 15 deer and four elk submitted at the sample removal site at the Craig Warehouse have tested positive for chronic wasting disease this season, said Vicki Weber, administrative assistant at the site.
Of that total, three elk and 11 deer were shot in Moffat County, she said.
This fall, more than 4,000 samples have been removed at the site.
“Certainly we’re disappointed to see that many cases have been found in Northwest Colorado,” said Todd Malmsbury, spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “We don’t know the source or how it got there. There’s not any way to make judgements about that.”
While the division would rather have not seen any cases in the area, Malmsbury said it’s reassuring that the infection rate is below 1 percent.
In parts of the endemic area near Fort Collins, the infection rate is more than 15 percent in deer, but remains at about 1 percent in elk.
Samples taken at the sample removal site in Craig cover an area from Hayden west to the Utah border, and from the Wyoming border south to Rio Blanco County.
Once the samples are removed from animal heads in Craig, they are shipped overnight to a laboratory at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
Animals discovered to carry the disease have not been confined to one area of Northwest Colorado.
A deer was discovered with the disease in game unit 10 in western Moffat County, about 28 miles north of Rangely near Dinosaur National Monument.
On Oct. 20, an elk with chronic wasting disease was shot in the southeast corner of Moffat County northwest of Horse Mountain, just outside the boundary of the Routt National Forest.
Deer also were discovered 10 miles northwest of Craig, four miles north of Craig and 10 miles south of Craig.
A year ago officials did not know the disease existed west of the Continental Divide, but, despite the checkerboard of discoveries this fall in Northwest Colorado, no decisions have been made about what steps would be taken to contain the disease in western Colorado, Malmsbury said.
“There’s not even any discussions right now of possible action,” he said. “We still need to learn more about what the distribution is. Later in December we might begin to discuss what management actions need to be taken.”
Last spring when the disease was discovered in mule deer in southwestern Routt County • the first chronic wasting discovery on the Western Slope • Division of Wildlife officials took action by attempting to kill all deer and elk within a five-mile radius of where the discovery was made.
That discovery was one of the reasons an attempt at widespread testing has been made this year.
About one fourth of all deer and elk killed in Colorado this year • about 25,000 • have been submitted for CWD testing.
“That number is pretty reasonable,” Malmsbury said. “We need to get as many samples as we can.”
Before hunting season began this fall, the DOW geared up its testing capabilities to test as many as 50,000 samples if needed, Malmsbury said.
Since the third rifle season for deer and elk ended Nov. 13, the workload has decreased considerably for workers at the site in Craig, Weber said.
“It’s slowed down considerably,” she said. “We’re getting about 20 to 25 heads a day.”
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease found in deer and elk.
The disease was known to exist in southeast Wyoming and northeast Colorado for the last two decades, but was first discovered to exist on Colorado’s Western Slope last spring.
While experts have found no connection between CWD and human illness, DOW officials advise hunters not to eat the meat from any diseased animals.