- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 1, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - State wildlife officials drafted their first new plan in a decade to try to manage chronic wasting disease, a document that includes aggressive steps in case the wildlife equivalent of mad cow disease ever spread to elk feeding areas in the western part of the state.

Under the plan, elk showing symptoms of chronic wasting disease on western Wyoming’s 22 state feedgrounds could be killed. Animals that died on the feedgrounds could be burned in incinerators to help prevent the disease from becoming established in the soil.

The state would keep testing for the disease near the feedgrounds and the National Elk Refuge, places where alfalfa pellets or hay are put out for elk to eat to improve their survival rates over the harsh winter.

Officials also would evaluate whether certain feedgrounds could be closed without disrupting elk herds or agriculture.

The fatal neurological disease affects elk, moose, mule deer and white-tailed deer and first turned up in Wyoming in 1987. No human cases are known, but biologists advise hunters not to eat animals that have tested positive for the disease caused by proteins called prions.

The disease is far more common in deer than other species in Wyoming and so far hasn’t become established near the feedgrounds. But it’s creeping into northwestern Wyoming. It turned up in new hunt areas this fall, including one that comes within 10 miles of Yellowstone National Park.

“On the average, we get three to five new areas a year. Sometimes we’ll get the single case, and we’ll ramp up the surveillance there for several years and then we don’t get a new positive,” Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the department’s wildlife division, said Monday.

Biologists worry that chronic wasting disease at the feedgrounds could be disastrous for elk that rely on the supplemental forage provided during the winter. The areas artificially concentrate elk, making it easier for the disease to spread.

Other measures in the draft plan include:

- Reviewing the state’s elk feeding policy to see if changes are needed.

- Considering the disease when developing wildlife management goals, such as herd population objectives.

- Continuing research into wildlife movement in western Wyoming to better understand how the disease could spread in the region.

So far, nobody has determined how to eliminate chronic wasting disease, a condition similar to mad cow disease in humans and scrapie in sheep.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is taking public comments on the draft plan until Jan. 5.

The agency will hold public meetings at 6 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Teton County Library and 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Game and Fish Department regional office in Casper.

The department will ask the state Game and Fish Commission to approve a final version of the plan Jan. 28 or 29 in Cheyenne.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide