The Division of Wildlife?s management of deer in areas affected by chronic wasting disease will emphasize disease control, according to draft plans produced by state biologists. The revised plans - called Data Analysis Unit plans - are available for public comment until Nov. 30 and can be found on the Division of Wildlife's web site at http://wildlife.state.co.us/hunt/DeerMngmtPlans/index.asp  or picked up at its Denver, Fort Collins or Brush Service Centers. The Colorado Wildlife Commission is scheduled to review the plans for formal adoption in January.
"These plans will dictate how the major deer herds within the chronic wasting disease endemic area are managed in the next five to 10 years," said Rick Kahn, terrestrial field operations manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "As they read now, each of the three plans call for an unprecedented focus on disease management in the affected - or endemic - herds."
In September, the Colorado Wildlife Commission adopted a chronic wasting disease policy that establishes a goal for Division managers to reduce disease prevalence to one percent or less in endemic-area deer herds and to keep the disease from spreading into uninfected areas. The rewritten plans were drafted to align the management of endemic-area deer herds with the policy's goals.
"Quite literally, these plans tell the Division of Wildlife to take all necessary steps to bring the prevalence of chronic wasting disease down to an acceptable rate in the state's wild deer herds," Kahn said. "While the plans intend to continue to allow public hunting in affected areas, it is not their primary goal - disease management is."
Data Analysis Unit plans, or DAUs, are used throughout the state by wildlife biologists to guide the management of big game herds. They are typically reviewed and revised every five to 10 years and then formally submitted to the Colorado Wildlife Commission for consideration and adoption. In practically every case, DAU plans set population objectives for wild game herds based upon a mix of criteria which can include keeping herds in balance with available habitat, providing recreational opportunity and reducing game damage.
As drafted, the DAU plans for the endemic-area deer herds base disease management as its sole criteria, with population objectives tied directly to prevalence rates. Initial goals in the draft DAU plans include maintaining reduced deer numbers throughout most of the endemic area. Division of Wildlife game managers believe a reduced population density should result in a reduction in the prevalence of chronic wasting disease and a reduction in the risk of it spreading.
Specifically, the draft plans call for the reduction of deer populations in areas north and northwest of Fort Collins from 9,500 animals to 7,000 or fewer animals in game management units 7, 8, 9, 19 and 191. In the Lyons, Loveland and Estes Park areas within game management unit 20, the plans dictate reducing deer herds by 1,000 or more animals from 6,000 deer to 5,000 or fewer deer. Along the South Platte River in northeastern Colorado, a plan outlines reducing deer herds from 2,600 animals to 2,000 or fewer animals in game management units 91, 92, 94, 96 and 951.
According to the draft DAU plans, disease prevalence will be tracked through the Division of Wildlife's ongoing monitoring program and deer population objectives will be adjusted accordingly to meet the one-percent or less disease-prevalence goal. In addition, the plans call for the aggressive culling of endemic-area deer that pose a high risk of spreading chronic wasting disease into uninfected herds. Public hunting will be used to reduce and maintain deer herd populations, although Division of Wildlife staff culling efforts will most likely have to be used to reach or maintain population objectives in some areas. In addition, the plans call for Division of Wildlife staff to be used to conduct "hotspot" culling efforts when infected animals are found in areas where disease prevalence is relatively low.
DAU plans for elk herds within the endemic area and for other deer herds not included in the present review process will be revised and presented for public comment and Colorado Wildlife Commission review during 2002. To obtain a copy of the recently redrafted plans, stop by the Division of Wildlife's Denver Service Center at 6060 Broadway in Denver, the Fort Collins Service Center at 317 W. Prospect Road in Fort Collins or the Brush Service Center at 122 E. Edison in Brush.
Chronic wasting disease is a degenerative neurological disease of deer and elk. It attacks the brains of infected animals, causing them to become emaciated, display abnormal behavior, lose control of bodily functions and die. In Colorado, chronic wasting disease is found in free-ranging wild deer and elk in 13 game management units in northeastern Colorado. On average, the rate of infection in the endemic area is between four percent and five percent in deer and less than one percent in elk.
Epidemiologists with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have found no link between chronic wasting disease and any human neurological disorders. However, state health department officials and the Division of Wildlife advise hunters to follow simple precautions when handling deer or elk taken in the endemic area and advise hunters not to consume animals that appear sick or test positive for the disease. The Division of Wildlife has sampled nearly 2,000 deer and elk from outside of the endemic area to determine if chronic wasting disease occurs in wild game herds elsewhere in the state. No infected free-ranging animals have been found outside the endemic area.