SANTA FE, N.M. – The director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish modified a complete ban against importing elk and other cervids into the state, the agency announced Friday.

Dr. Bruce Thompson made the modification of the importation ban following a review of the status of chronic wasting disease throughout the United States.

“Department staff have evaluated chronic wasting disease in other states and have identified the areas where the disease has been found to date,” said Dr. Tom Arvas, chairman of the Commission. “No importation from those infected areas, or surrounding buffer areas, will be allowed.”

New Mexico’s regulations will not allow the importation of animals from any area where CWD has been found in the past 60 months.

Commissioner Guy Riordan said Department staff will continue to monitor chronic wasting disease around the country. Detailed maps based on available biological and scientific information will be maintained and updated by the Department as necessary to provide elk and deer importers with accurate data on which to base their purchase and importation efforts, he said.

Chronic wasting disease is a deadly neurological problem found in deer and elk. It causes gaps in brain tissue and is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy similar to scrapie in sheep and so-called “mad-cow” disease in cattle.

Many veterinary and animal husbandry experts believe New Mexico’s wildlife importation rule is adequate to protect the state from wildlife-borne diseases. However, preventing the spread of chronic wasting disease presents special problems – it has a long incubation period, it’s unclear how it’s transmitted and there is no non-lethal test for CWD in elk.

“The risk of exposure is too great if a cervid is known to have mingled with others from these areas,” said Kerry Mower, wildlife health specialist for the Department. “Our staff will continue to monitor any new findings of chronic wasting disease nationally and adjust importation restrictions accordingly.”

The rule affects Game Park or Class A Park owners, who are permitted by statute to own or hunt elk and deer in their parks. The import ban’s modification should allow park owners to augment their herds while continuing to protect the state and its wildlife from infectious diseases.

Importation was banned in June 2002 as an Animal Health Emergency after wild deer at White Sands Missile Range were found infected with CWD. The emergency placed a moratorium on importation that continued until this action. A total of six deer from White Sands tested positive since spring 2002, but no cases of CWD in elk have been found in New Mexico to date.

More information about CWD, New Mexico’s wildlife and compliance with modified importation procedures are available from the Department of Game and Fish headquarters in Santa Fe. Call Kerry Mower, (505) 476-8080, for more information.