Wildlife and agriculture officials are calling for the destruction of a captive elk herd at a Western Slope hunting ranch after an animal died and tested positive for chronic wasting disease last week.
“I think both the state Agriculture (Department) and U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, are in unanimous agreement that the 200-plus elk on the Motherwell Ranch should be destroyed,” said Jim Miller, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. But, Miller said, that agreement alone won’t get the job done.
“For one thing, we have to see how much money the USDA has in its indemnity fund to pay for the herd (if it is to be slaughtered).”
Miller said a price would have to be negotiated with Motherwell owner Wes Adams, a Las Vegas developer, with one figure for lower-priced elk and a higher fee for the large bulls that are hunted within the 1,800-acre ranch’s enclosures.
In the meantime, State Veterinarian Wayne Cunningham placed the ranch, located south of Hayden, under quarantine – prohibiting any movement of elk on or off the facility.
If negotiations go forward, it won’t be the first time officials have tried to deal with Adams. After wild deer taken within the ranch’s fences tested positive for CWD in 2002, Adams asked for $1 million for condemnation of his herd and reimbursement for fencing.
At the time, Colorado elk ranchers were being reimbursed up to $3,000 per animal in a bid to control the spread of the always fatal brain wasting disease.
Neither Adams nor his agent could be reached for comment Monday.
As the wild deer killed in 2002 on or near the Motherwell were tested, three on the property and seven just outside of it tested positive for CWD. It was the first time the killer of deer and elk had been found on the Western Slope.
Agriculture officials offered Adams up to $2,850 apiece for his then 130-animal herd.
But Adams said he wanted roughly $600,000 for his herd and another $400,000 to make up for his investment in a fence. State agriculture officials said they didn’t have the money. So Adams – unlike other elk ranchers at the time – was allowed to keep his herd, with the provision that any animals that left the ranch would be tested.
The latest CWD discovery was in a 4-year-old bull elk that was killed in a fight with another bull. The finding came as a shock to state Agriculture Department officials because it was the first infected elk discovered in two years.
CWD is a member of a family of diseases called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, which include mad cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob in humans.
Unlike mad cow, there is no proof that CWD has infected humans, but CWD is believed to be infectious in the wild between deer and elk.
“They have been testing animals at the Motherwell for more than five years, and this animal was born on the ranch,” said Ron Walker, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association. “So it makes us suspicious that it may have come in contact with an infected animal outside the fence, which caused the disease.”
Mike Miller, a veterinarian for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said it’s impossible to say for certain how the animal contracted the disease, but it is true there is an outbreak of CWD in wild elk and deer throughout the area of the ranch.