Western Slope Deer Culling Continues

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The Colorado Division of Wildlife will begin culling deer and elk in southwestern Routt County this week in an attempt to stop an outbreak of chronic wasting disease before it becomes established on the Western Slope.

The effort will be focused within a five-mile radius of the area where two captive deer with CWD were found last week. Wildlife officers will begin killing deer and elk immediately because herds are about to begin their spring migration to higher elevations. The effort is scheduled to continue through Friday, but may end earlier if the spring migration begins before that.

"Our goal is to do everything we can to eradicate the disease on the Western Slope," said Division Director Russell George. "We believe we have a reasonable chance of success if we move quickly and decisively prior to the major spring migrations."

Chronic wasting disease was first found in western Colorado in late March when two deer enclosed in a private captive wildlife facility tested positive.

The Division immediately killed 311 deer in early April within a five-mile radius of the facility to learn if CWD had spread into wild populations. Last week, two of those deer tested positive for CWD, the first time that the disease has been found in wild deer in western Colorado.

After the discovery of the two positive deer, wildlife officers killed an additional 18 deer where the two positive ones were found. Preliminary testing of those 18 animals late Friday found one with CWD, bringing the total of positive wild deer in southwestern Routt County to three.

"We want to move immediately, because once the spring migration begins, thousands of animals will move thorough this area," said Dan Prenzlow, the Division?s area wildlife manager in Craig. "Our goal is to remove animals that have been exposed to CWD before the migration begins."

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disease of deer and elk that has been endemic in portions of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than two decades. Division surveillance over the past six years has found that, on average, about 5 percent of deer and less than 1 percent of elk test for CWD in the endemic area. The source is unknown.

Despite extensive testing, chronic wasting disease had never been found in western Colorado prior to last week.

"We consider these three cases in Routt County to be an outbreak of CWD since the positive deer were found 120 miles from the endemic area," said Jeff Ver Steeg, the Division's terrestrial wildlife manager.

"There is no migration of deer or elk between the northeastern Colorado endemic area and Routt County, and we have tested more than 600 animals in the area between Routt County and the endemic area," Ver Steeg said. "We don't know how CWD reached this Western Slope herd, but we know we must act immediately to try to stop it."

Samples will be collected from each of the deer and elk killed by wildlife officers and sent to Fort Collins for testing at the Division's research facility. The carcasses will then be incinerated at a nearby wildlife area.

Most of the culling will occur on private land, and most local landowners have agreed to work with the Division by allowing access to their property.

"We greatly appreciate the cooperation of these local landowners," said Bruce McCloskey, the Division's deputy director. "We couldn't conduct this effort without their help and cooperation."

While hundreds of deer and elk are expected to be killed, the culling will likely have only a minimal impact on the fall hunting season because there are thousands of animals in that portion of Colorado and the culling will be focused on a relatively small area.

"In that portion of Colorado, we are actually well above our objective for elk, and it's unlikely that hunters will ever notice culling has taken place in this area," McCloskey said.

Teams of wildlife officers and biologists from several areas of Colorado will conduct the culling.

"This is the toughest, most unpleasant job our wildlife field staff has ever been faced with," George said. "Culling hundreds of deer and elk is the last thing they want to do. But we believe it would be irresponsible to take no action in the hope that chronic wasting disease will somehow disappear on its own," George added. "We owe it to all Coloradans to do all we can now, rather than leave this problem for others to solve."