Herd owners say state underpaid for animals killed

Ten former elk ranchers filed a $5 million lawsuit Friday against the state Department of Agriculture for compensation they say is owed after their herds were condemned and killed last year.

The condemnation came after chronic wasting disease was discovered in their herds.

Each herd was appraised and several million dollars was paid to the owners at the time.

But the lawsuit alleges what had been paid was only a portion of the actual expenses and worth of the animals.

Chronic wasting disease is an always fatal neurological disease of deer and elk. There is no proof that it is a risk to human health.

When CWD was discovered on captive-elk ranches, the state condemned all the herds where it was found and slaughtered more than 3,000 animals, although only 50 elk actually were determined to have the disease.

There is no live test for the disease in elk, so the only way to ensure that it was eradicated was to kill all the animals.

At the time, the Department of Agriculture capped how much it would pay for each animal at $2,850, which ranchers claim is about half what they were worth and far less than what they had to pay for bulls.

The suit claims a law requiring three appraisals before an animal can be destroyed was violated and that payments the ranchers received were only partial payments made pursuant to an arbitrary appraisal in which the ranchers had no input.

Jim Miller, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture, said, “We have no reason to believe we acted inappropriately.”