Fewer harvests mean fewer animals tested for chronic wasting disease in 2003.

Fewer deer and elk were tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Colorado in 2003, a reflection of a lower deer and elk harvests in many areas of the state, according to statistics complied by the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW).

All of the animals that tested positive for the fatal prion disease were taken from or near areas where CWD was found in 2002. CWD has not been detected in the large deer and elk herds on the Uncompahgre Plateau, San Juan Mountains, Gunnison Basin, San Luis Valley or Sangre de Cristo Range in southern Colorado.

None of the 105 moose killed by hunters in 2003 tested positive for CWD. The disease has only been found in elk and deer and never in a moose, the largest member of the deer family. Wildlife Commission regulations require that CWD tests be performed on all moose killed by hunters.

“We still need to fully compile all of the information we’ve collected, but poor hunting conditions may have contributed to the reduced number of animals submitted for testing,” said Kathi Green, the DOW’s disease management coordinator. “The weather was unusually warm and dry through most of the big game seasons, and that typically reduces hunter success. But that won’t be clear until after the DOW harvest data becomes available later this winter.”

So far, 15,424 deer, elk and moose have been submitted for CWD testing for the 2003 hunting season, which is 37 percent fewer that the 24,652 animals submitted for testing by the same time last year. A few big game seasons continue into January in areas where additional harvest is needed to manage herds, so some additional animals well be tested over the next month.

CWD was found in eight game management units adjacent to units where the disease was detected in 2002. They include units, 15, 17, 24, 27, 171, 231, 391 and 521.

Hunters in the northeastern portion of Colorado where the disease has existed for more than two decades are required to submit animals for testing and the test is free. Elsewhere in the state, testing is voluntary and there is a $15 fee to help defray laboratory costs.

In portions of southwestern Colorado where CWD has never been found, the fee was waived in a number of game management units to encourage hunters to submit animals for testing. But the poor harvest resulted in fewer animals being tested than wildlife managers had hoped for.

Individual test results are posted on the DOW Web site and can also be obtained by calling a voice automated telephone system.

“Our goal this year was to have test results back to hunters in two weeks or less, and we accomplished that with nearly all of the animals that were submitted,” Green said.

The DOW collects tissue samples from harvested animals and then submits them to Colorado State University’s (CSU) Diagnostics Laboratory for testing. The CSU lab has led the nation in adopting a new, fast and accurate screening test that allows for a large number of samples to be processed in a relatively short period of time, making the rapid response possible.

“For the second year in a row, DOW employees have collected thousands of samples, had them tested and returned results to hunters in less than two weeks,” said Russell George, former DOW director and current head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “That is a remarkable achievement, made possible by good planning, attention to every detail and plenty of hard work.

“With invaluable help from CSU’s diagnostics lab, we’ve established a testing system that works so well that many people now take it for granted. That may be one of the best compliments of all,” George said.