OUT: Wasting disease still a factor in wildlife policies

It’s no longer in the forefront of most hunters’ minds, but chronic wasting disease still haunts some of Colorado big game herds.

The always fatal neurological disease, which received a lot of national attention a few years ago when it first appeared on the public’s radar screen, hasn’t gone away and it likely never will.

But at least you no longer read reports saying the disease will wipe out deer and elk herds.

“I would say certainly the concern has diminished dramatically,” said Mike Miller, state veterinarian for the Division of Wildlife. “It’s probably back down to where it should reasonably be given what we know about the disease and what we can do about it.”

In Colorado, the disease affects elk, moose and mule and white-tailed deer. A Division report available online (wildlife.state.co.us, click on Research) says surveys done in 2005 to 2007 show CWD “is relatively well-established and widely distributed” in Colorado.

The disease has been found in 22 of 55 deer data analysis units or DAUs, in 12 of 46 elk DAUs and two of the four moose DAUs.

Occurrence of the disease in those units ranges from less than 10 percent in mule deer to less than 3 percent in elk and less than 1.5 percent in moose.

“It seemed for a little while things were changing dramatically but what was changing was our knowledge about the disease and its distribution, not the disease itself,” Miller said. “We looked harder and smarter for the disease and have a much better handle on it now.”

Hunters still are encouraged to submit samples from deer and elk for CWD testing. Testing formerly focused on an animal’s brain, and hunters were asked to submit the heads of the animals they harvested.

Now, research has shown reliable results from testing lymph nodes and spleen tissue. A video on the DOW Web link above demonstrates a quick field removal of lymph nodes and spleen.

It’s graphic but no worse than anything you see while dressing an animal, and it’s an easy lesson in biology.

Surveys shows the disease isn’t spreading as quickly as it was feared five years ago.

“The good news, by large, is whatever we are doing right now in terms of policy, management or combination of population management and natural conditions seems to be holding things more or less steady,” Miller said. “We’re not seeing a dramatic change in distribution or in the infection rates and that’s good.”

Miller said biologists are particularly interested in animals taken from areas where CWD hasn’t been found, such as the Uncompahgre Plateau and the Gunnison Basin.

“Hunters or anyone seeing an animal that is ill or acting strangely should report it,” Miller said. “We are quite interested in trying to get those animals out of circulation.”

More information and a list of DOW offices open weekends and holidays during the hunting season is on the DOW Web site.


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