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Cooperation crucial to fighting wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease, threatening Colorado’s wild and domestic deer and elk, may also test political relations between states and the federal government.

So far, officials appear to be earning more than passing scores.

Chronic wasting disease is very much a state problem, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife has responded with due haste and seriousness.



CWD is also proving to be a federal problem. The federal government should step up and help combat this epidemic. So far, it is showing the willingness and ponying up the resources to do so.

Reportedly first diagnosed in Colorado in 1967, the disease is believed to have spread to other states and Canada through shipping of captive elk. Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Wyoming all have reported outbreaks of the disease.



CWD has now crossed the Continental Divide into Colorado’s game-rich Western Slope.

It poses a threat on several levels.

Chronic wasting disease attacks the brain, causing deer and elk to grow thin and die. Hunting and captive game breeding economies are threatened, as is the pure enjoyment of watching these animals in the wild.

Worse yet, CWD is related to mad cow disease. It isn’t known whether CWD can spread to cattle or people, but scientists can’t rule out the possibility.

As a result, our response to CWD must acknowledge the heavy consequences if it infiltrates America’s cattle industry spreads to people.

Given the high stakes of this battle, it was encouraging to hear the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s deputy commissioner, Lester Crawford, express confidence Monday that CWD should and can be eradicated.

We hope he is right, and we hope the federal government is prepared to lead the battle against CWD with the kind of arsenal no state can muster.

Early actions by Washington have been encouraging. Last December, U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., snagged federal funds for Colorado to carry out the drastic but necessary step of killing deer and elk where CWD has broken out, test carcasses and control the spread of CWD.

Allard is now seeking federal grants and workers to address CWD “hot spots” in the West. In Colorado, that will bolster another $1.9 million the Colorado House of Representatives has approved to help DOW in its fight.

It could be more difficult to establish an agreeable working relationship between state and federal officials.

By and large, states manage their own wildlife. But when diseases such as CWD cross state lines, and the federal government contributes funds to seek their eradication, federal officials will take a closer look at how game is managed.

Also, the issue is blurred by the raising of domestic elk.

Even within Colorado, this has challenged interagency cooperation because the state Agriculture Department, not the DOW, oversees elk farms.

The public doesn’t care who is in charge. They just want to know whether anything could have been done differently to regulate commercial elk farms to prevent CWD outbreaks, avoiding the more costly and gruesome attempts to control and eradicate them.

The model for state-federal cooperation in wildlife management can be seen between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies, which work together to recover endangered species.

Hopefully, states and the federal government can respond to CWD in a way that respects states’ rights. But if it that doesn’t work smoothly and quickly, and some level of federal regulation is required to get the job done, then this case warrants it.

– Dennis Webb, News Editor


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