The number of deer and elk submitted by hunters for chronic wasting disease testing declined again this year largely due to the end of mandatory testing in northeastern Colorado.
Through Dec. 8, approximately 11,282 deer and elk had been turned in at Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) collection sites. On the same date last year, 14,260 deer and elk had been submitted for chronic wasting disease, or CWD, testing.
“Most of that decline is in northeastern Colorado where the submission rate has gone down by more than 60 percent,” said Kathi Green, the DOW’s disease coordinator. “We had expected a substantial decline in those units when testing became voluntary.”
In the rest of Colorado, submission rates are down about 9 percent for deer and 4 percent for elk, Green said.
“The disease has not been found in any new areas of the state,” Green told members of the Colorado Wildlife Commission during a briefing at a workshop in Denver on Friday.
“The only new game management unit is unit 14 in northern Colorado north of Steamboat that is adjacent to other units that are already positive,” she added.
CWD is a fatal disease of deer and elk that has been found in portions of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than two decades. It has since been found in wild deer and elk in seven states and one Canadian province. The contagious disease is apparently caused by an aberrant protein in the brain of infected animals. There is no known cure.
State and federal health officials have not found a link between CWD and human health. As a precaution, health officials and the DOW recommend that people not eat animals that appear to be sick or test positive for CWD.
The disease has not been found in southwestern Colorado. A single deer tested positive for CWD in Colorado Springs last spring, but no animals have tested positive so far this hunting season in the southeastern portion of Colorado.
“We still have a number of late seasons through the state, some running into January,” Green pointed out. “We won’t have final numbers until early spring.”
The DOW has urged hunters in some portions of the state, particularly in southwestern and southeastern Colorado, to turn in animals for testing as part of ongoing disease surveillance efforts. The $15 fee, which pays only a small portion of the cost of a test, has been waived in 31 game management units around the state this year to encourage hunters to submit animals.
“We won’t know if waiving the fee will result in a sufficient number of submissions until the season ends and we have a chance to analyze the number,” Green explained.
CWD has still not been found in moose. CWD testing is mandatory for moose, and hunters have submitted 101 so far this year.
“We still have the option of requiring mandatory testing for deer and elk if we don’t receive the number we need for surveillance,” said Jeff Ver Steeg, the DOW’s wildlife branch manager. “Mandatory testing in some areas and continued use of incentives to encourage testing are among the options we’ll consider prior to the 2005 big game season.” For more information about CWD, visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/CWD/index.asp