Unseasonably mild weather through much of Colorado’s big game hunting season has hindered harvest, and therefor lowering the number of animals submitted for CWD testing.
Unseasonably warm, dry weather over much of Colorado this fall has substantially reduced the big-game harvest and the number of animals submitted for testing for chronic wasting disease.
By the end of the third rifle season, hunters had submitted more than 11,000 deer, elk and moose for testing at Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) collection sites, compared to 18,000 last year at the same time. So far, less than 1 percent of the animals have tested positive for CWD. The tests are conducted by Colorado State University’s diagnostic laboratory.
The positive animals have been found in areas where the disease was found last year. No animals have tested positive for CWD in the southern part of the state.
“The poor hunting conditions are clearly reducing hunter harvest and, as a result, the number of animals submitted for testing,” said Kathi Green, the DOW’s disease coordinator.
Reports from area biologists around the state underscore the poor harvest.
“Although we have had some significant snowfall at higher elevations the elk have been slow to move into areas where they can be harvested,” reported Darby Finley, the DOW’s area biologist in Meeker.
“The weather is warm again and the elk and deer harvest are below normal,” said Aaron Linstrom, the area biologist in Denver. “We were hoping that the weather would bring hunters and animals together, but that does not seem to be the case.”
Last year, more than 26,000 animals were submitted for testing, about a quarter of the 100,000 deer and elk hunters took during a season where favorable weather led to a record elk harvest.
“This year we were prepared to test as many as 40,000 animals,” Green said. “It appears we will test far fewer animals than that, and perhaps fewer than we tested in 2002.”
Hunters may submit animals at more than two dozens locations around the state. Testing is free for deer and elk and mandatory in the portion of northeastern Colorado where the disease has been established for decades. In the rest of the state, testing is voluntary and hunters pay $15 to have their animals tested.
“Our goal is to have test results back to hunters in less than two weeks and so far, we’ve been able to meet that goal for nearly all the animals that have been tested,” Green said.
A key factor has been the use of a fast, accurate test by CSU’s diagnostic laboratory. Lab Director Barb Powers and her staff first used the ELISA test on a large basis in 2002, winning U.S. Department of Agriculture certification for the procedure.
Of the 83 deer and elk that have tested positive, 59 have been found in the portion of northeastern Colorado where the disease has been established for decades. Past tests have found that about 5 percent of deer and about 1 percent of elk taken by hunters in the northeastern established area test positive for CWD.
In northwestern Colorado where the disease was first found in wild deer and elk in 2002, prevalence in deer and elk from units with sufficient sample sizes averages less than 1 percent.
Submission of moose for CWD testing was mandatory throughout the state this year. Hunters submitted 102 moose for testing this year and 33 in 2002. No moose have ever tested positive for CWD.
Animals that tested positive for CWD have been found in four new game management units, near units that had positive animals in 2002. The new positive units are 17, 24, 27 and 521.
“None of these are surprises because we’ve already found CWD in animals in adjacent units,” said DOW Veterinarian Mike Miller, one of the nation’s top CWD experts.
Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer and elk. The disease has been found in portions of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than two decades. It has recently spread to wild animals in western Colorado, central Wyoming, as well as Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota, New Mexico, Illinois, Utah and the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. The disease has been found in captive elk herds in the United States, Canada and South Korea.
Health experts at the Colorado Department of Health, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have found no connection between CWD and human health. As a precaution, they recommend that diseased animals should not be eaten, especially the brain and the nervous and lymphatic systems, meat that is not normally eaten by humans.