Chronic Wasting Disease May Be Spread By U. S. Fish And Wildlife

by Laura Schneberger

Alamogordo, NM (PFNS)    The U. S. Fish and Wildlife is feeding two wolf
packs in New Mexico and Arizona with carcasses potentially infected with
Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) announced that the state
has confirmed the first case of CWD in a deer found on White Sands Missile
range. The disease is often compared to Mad Cow disease, though it does not
spread to domestic livestock. It is a similar prion disease that affects the
brain tissue of the affected animal and spreads rapidly among deer and elk
herds. The prion can survive in the soil for an unknown amount of time after
a carcass rots on the spot. Game grazing in that area can contract the
disease by ingesting the prion, possibly for years after the prion is

Efforts to stem the potential for the eruption of the disease in the state
have been limited to control of importation of domesticated elk by game
ranchers. Agencies have done little to control the transport of potentially
diseased elk and deer throughout the state by their counterparts in the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Since 1998 the USFWS has collected and transported road-killed elk and deer
carcasses throughout New Mexico and Arizona, to be used in feeding captive
raised Mexican wolves during the Mexican wolf reintroduction program being
carried out in Arizona and New Mexico. Collection points for carcasses have
included areas close to the borders of states with the disease. The New
Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) was unable to pose restrictions
on the federal agency and at times assisted in the location and collection
of carcasses.

In the spring of 2001, Marvin Cromwell of the Pierson ranch cooperated with
NMDGF in the destruction of his elk herd near Magdalena after the
importation of a domestic bull elk. The bull was brought in from an area in
Colorado that had been quarantined due to an outbreak of the deadly disease.
Upon destruction on his herd, Mr. Cromwell was approached by USFWS personnel
and asked to allow them to collect the carcasses for feeding in the Mexican
wolf program. Mr. Cromwell contacted NMDGF officials, who drew the line at
that request. Though testing for the disease was not completed, the
carcasses were destroyed. Testing of the Cromwell animals eventually showed
that the disease had not entered his herd. NMDGF officials were sufficiently
worried that the use of the carcasses had the potential to spread the
disease even though the elk at the Pierson ranch had adequate veterinary

At this time, USFWS personnel are feeding two wolf packs in the New Mexico
Gila Wilderness and one in Arizona with potentially infected carcasses.
Meanwhile, the only preventive effort exercised by NMDGF is the testing of
heads donated by volunteer hunters. Elk in the Gila area are declining in
areas wolves are known to frequent. There aren't sufficient numbers of
wolves to cause a population decline, and whatever is affecting the herds is
unknown at this time.

Immediate emergency management procedures are needed to determine the
immediate threat to New Mexico's game herds from this disease, and where the
disease is localized. Until these precautions are taken, free and easy
carcass transportation and feeding should be curtailed in areas where the
disease can devastate the Southwest's game resources. The immediate testing
and destruction of all carcasses in USFWS freezers intended for feeding
animals used in reintroduction programs is an absolute necessity. What's
good enough for elk ranchers like the Cromwells, is certainly good enough
for federal and state agencies.

PFNS is a public service of the Paragon Foundation, Alamogordo, NM

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