Elk ranchers and lawmakers are worried sick
about chronic wasting disease.
The fatal brain
malady has occurred at low levels in wild populations of elk and
deer in northeastern Colorado for three decades, but is now
spreading in herds of domestic elk that live in close contact with
one another (HCN, 11/5/01: Wasting disease spreads in Colorado).
Wildlife officials fear that as domestic elk are transported
throughout the state, the disease will spread to wild elk in new
In early January, the Colorado Wildlife
Commission required that all elk imported into the state be
disease-free for 60 months. Because many scientists and agriculture
officials agreed that 36 months was sufficient, game ranchers say
the wildlife agency is picking on the elk
But Todd Malmsbury of the Division of
Wildlife says, "Given the potential impact of this disease
spreading into wild herds, it's appropriate to take these steps."
Elk ranchers say the new regulations will
hamstring them economically because it will be two years until most
domestic elk in the nation meet the 60-month surveillance required
"It's easier for the Division of
Wildlife to point fingers at domestic elk than address the problem
in the wild," says Steve Wolcott of the North American Elk Breeders
Association. There are no regulations to prevent the transport of
wild animal carcasses that may harbor the disease.