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 regions.
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 industry.
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 for trade.
"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.