Rifle takes aim at the economic effects of CWD | PostIndependent.com

Rifle takes aim at the economic effects of CWD

Chronic wasting disease in deer and elk has inched to within 90 miles of Rifle, but the business community’s reaction varies from deep concern to borderline shrugs.Mike Homan, owner of Timberline Sporting Goods, indicated he is mostly concerned about news stories that spread Colorado’s chronic wasting disease problems around the United States.”The more word gets out, the more it will hurt us,” Homan said.Debbie Brooks, manager of the Red River Inn, said the fall hunting season is a “significant” part of her business, and her motel will be hurt if fears of the disease reduce the number of hunters who stay in Rifle each year.”But we’ve already had people call for reservations for this year, people from North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas,” Brooks said.Rifle Chamber of Commerce board member Marcia Kent said she hasn’t heard people expressing concern over impacts the disease might have on the city’s economy, “But I’m not saying it’s not out there.”Kent said she thinks Rifle is less dependent on hunters than in the past, and that numbers have dropped from “huge volumes” of previous years.”We’ve gotten used to lower numbers, so we’re prepared for where this may lead,” Kent said.Specific hunter numbers from the chamber director were not available.Like many towns on the Western Slope, Rifle’s economy gets a shot in the arm when thousands of deer and elk hunters flock to the area through September and into to mid-November. Hunters stock up on high-powered rifles, beer and groceries before setting out for camp. They also stay in motels, eat in restaurants, and buy gifts for their families.But if chronic wasting disease spreads south, all that could change.Chronic wasting disease is a contagious brain ailment that causes deer and elk to grow thin and die. It is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is not known to spread from deer and elk to cattle or people, but scientists say they can’t rule out that possibility.The disease, first discovered 30 years ago, was thought to be confined to the Eastern Slope until five deer were tested positive inside and outside the Motherwell elk ranch south of Craig starting in January.In the most recent development this week, the Colorado Division of Wildlife started killing all the wild deer and elk they can find within five miles of the ranch, located 12 miles east of Hamilton, to keep the disease from spreading.On the heels of the most recent chronic wasting disease discovery, state Rep. Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs, has co-sponsored new legislation to appropriate $1.94 million to deal with the infectious disease. It would cover the costs of-Operating a test facility on the Western Slope.-Removing deer in hotspots where the disease is detected.-Studying deer movement patterns.-Paying for double fencing of captive deer and elk to prevent contact between those animals and wild animals.-Hiring 10 workers to survey and monitor deer and elk herds.”This has the potential of becoming a serious epidemic that would have a devastating impact on the livelihood of many of our citizens,” said Al White, R-Winter Park, the amendment’s co-sponsor.”If we don’t spend the money now to ensure proper study and containment of this disease, we’ll end up paying much more later when the governor is forced to declare a state of emergency to deal with the problem,” White said.Pepi Langegger, whose 500-acre elk ranch seven miles south of Silt is home to 100 head, had to deal with chronic wasting disease even before it was confirmed on the Western Slope.He said he’s had trouble exporting velvet antlers to Asia due to chronic wasting disease fears, although the market appears to be opening up again.Other states, such as Texas, won’t allow Colorado’s domestic elk to be imported.”Any time you can’t move animals and sell them, you’re affected,” said Langegger, a Vail restaurateur who has been in the elk business since 1987.For elk calves born this year, “I’ll just have to keep them,” Langegger said. “Hopefully I’ll have enough room, and maybe in four or five months this will level off again.”

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