Finger-Pointing About
Wasting Disease Escalates
By Dave Buchanan
The Daily Sentinel

A 1990 grazing study on the Western Slope by Colorado Division of Wildlife purposely using elk exposed to chronic wasting disease was a mistake, but it's time to move on, DOW officials said Friday.
The study, which included allowing 150 wild elk to graze in pens near Maybell that previously were used by the disease-exposed elk, was a "bad call," said Jeff Ver Steeg, the DOW's terrestrial wildlife section leader.
But published accusations from Delta veterinarian Dick Steele that the experiment was "hidden for the last 12 years" are wrong, state officials said.
"That's totally inaccurate," said Dawn Taylor, communications chief for the state Department of Natural Resources, which has authority over the Division of Wildlife. "It's been a public record since 1996 and was brought up at several meetings held this year on the Western Slope."
The experiment, done to test the effects of grazing elk on winter forage, might be responsible for the presence of chronic wasting disease, a fatal neurological disease, on the Western Slope, according to the Colorado Mule Deer Association.
Denny Behrens, executive director of the Mule Deer Association, told the Rocky Mountain News earlier this week that wild elk might have picked up the disease either by grazing in the pens or by coming in contact with diseased elk.
"If you look at the areas where elk migrate, you will find they are in the same areas where deer and elk tested positive for CWD this hunting season," Behrens said.
But Ver Steeg said Behrens' theory is only one of many trying to discern how the disease is spread.
Elk ranchers, who have received much of the blame for spreading the disease by shipping CWD-exposed elk across the state and to other states, have long maintained the Division of Wildlife, through experiments such as the 1990 study by Maybell, is responsible for the presence of CWD in western Colorado.
Jerry Perkins, an elk rancher near Delta, reportedly is seeking a legislative inquiry into the matter. Perkins could not be reached for comment Friday.
But there never was a coverup, insist DOW officials. It's a matter of public record that the experiment near Maybell was discussed during public meetings this past spring when the division was conducting a culling operation on the Motherwell Ranch on the Williams Fork River south of Craig.
"Not only were the exper- iments mentioned, they were specifically brought up, and questions about them were answered to the best of our ability," said Ron Velarde, the DOW's West Region manager in Grand Junction.
He said both DOW Director Russell George and DOW state veterinarian Mike Miller, neither of whom were involved in the 1990 study, talked about what is known about the study.
"Certainly we feel bad about it now, but that's all hindsight," Velarde said. "It's time to move forward and do all we can to fight this disease."
Most of the chronic wasting disease cases found on the Western Slope are clustered along a north-south line west of Craig, with many of those in a triangle bordered by Craig, Maybell and the Axial Basin.
Dave Buchanan can be reached via e-mail at



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