The Colorado Wildlife Commission reestablished Division of Wildlife authority over the importation of deer and elk Jan. 10 and required that imported animals be disease free for at least 60 months to reduce the risk of chronic wasting disease entering the state.
The vote was unanimous.
The Division will now share authority over deer and elk importation with the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Agriculture officials still have lead responsibility to assure that animals are not infected with other diseases and to quarantine deer and elk to prevent the spread of disease.
Agriculture officials and representatives of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association favored a steeped approach that would phase in the 60-month requirement over the next three years. But Division Veterinarian Mike Miller, one of the nation's foremost authorities on CWD, recommended the 60-month requirement.
"A 36-month requirement is not enough time to assure that animals don't have chronic wasting disease," Miller told the Commission. "Sixty months is a better, more conservative period for surveillance to occur before animals are imported into the state."
Miller explained that the period between CWD infections being detected in captive facilities has been as long as 58 months. The Division regulations are needed to reduce the risk of the disease spreading to wild or captive herds in portions of the state where the disease has never been found in the wild, he said.
The movement of live animals infected with the disease is considered to be the greatest risk to uninfected herds.
The Commission regulation requires that captive deer and elk facilities must have documentation showing that no animals have contracted or been exposed to CWD for at least 60 months before the facility's animals may be imported into Colorado. The Commission also prohibited new commercial wildlife parks or new satellite facilities in a unanimous vote.
Division Director Russ George and Agriculture Commissioner Don Ament agreed to develop a memorandum of understanding detailing how the two agencies will share joint authority for the importation of deer and elk.
George emphasized that neither the Wildlife Commission nor the Division had any intention of removing Agriculture Commission authority. "No one here has ever suggested taking away any authority for livestock from the Department of Agriculture," George said. "The only thing this regulation does today is allow us to have a say on elk and deer coming into the state." Greg Walcher, executive director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, also urged adoption of the regulations.
"If you pass this regulation as I think you must do, it doesn't take authority away from the Department of Agriculture," Walcher told Commissioners. "It's very clear you need to put the Division of Wildlife back in the loop." Chronic wasting disease is a fatal neurological disorder that effects deer and elk. The disease, apparently caused by an aberrant protein, attacks the brain causing a steady decline in body function and eventually, death. There is no known cure. The disease has been found in wild deer and elk in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than 30 years and in captive elk for more than a decade.
Researchers don't know where or how the disease began.
The movement of elk with CWD from a captive facility thought to be disease free to two game ranches outside the northeastern Colorado endemic area and to Kansas has increased concern about the shipment of animals without adequate surveillance.
A number of groups representing sportsmen, conservationists and environmentalist urged the Commission to adopt the regulations.