DOW Decides not to Expand CWD Disposal System

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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will not proceed with plans to build a new incinerator in Larimer County for the disposal of deer and elk heads that have been tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD), state wildlife officials said Tuesday.

Increased public confidence, and the elimination of mandatory CWD testing have contributed to a lower demand for testing of deer and elk heads. Because of this, state wildlife officials decided to shelf plans to build the proposed incinerator.

Recently, the DOW received a certificate of designation (CD) from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment that would have enabled it to seek final approval from the Larimer County Board of Commissioners. The CD verified that the DOW incinerator proposal complied with state and federal health regulations.

“This incinerator would have been part of a statewide disposal system for the testing, management and research that surrounds CWD,” said John Smeltzer, public services administrator for the DOW.

In cooperation with Colorado State University (CSU), the DOW manages two incinerators in Craig which are used to dispose of deer and elk heads that have been tested for CWD. Animal heads tested for the disease are also disposed at CSU facilities in Rocky Ford, Ft. Collins and Grand Junction. Deer and elk heads - the vast majority of them testing negative for CWD - are burned in the incinerators, buried in designated landfills, or destroyed at a “digester” under the watch of CSU diagnostic lab personnel in Ft. Collins.

“All three methods have been sanctioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as legitimate disposal methods for prions, the infectious proteins associated with CWD. The EPA says all of them are efficient and effective when applied according to standards, which, of course, is what we’re doing,” he said.

CWD is a fatal neurological disease afflicting some Colorado deer and elk herds. As part of ongoing efforts to track the occurrence and distribution of the disease, DOW and CSU diagnostic lab personnel last year tested more than 15,424 deer, elk and moose heads submitted by hunters. That was 37 percent fewer than the 24,652 animals submitted for testing by the same time in 2002.

Based on this and other evidence, state wildlife officials anticipate a decreased demand for CWD testing in the foreseeable future. While the Colorado Wildlife Commission recently eliminated mandatory CWD testing for deer and elk, hunters are still required to submit moose heads for testing. No moose has ever tested positive for the disease.