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Fears Rise as Chronic Wasting Disease Strikes Colorado Deer Herds

This group is trying to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a disorder infecting deer, moose, and elk in Colorado.

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It’s the stuff of horror films: In the 1960s, Colorado State University researchers identified a disease feasting on deer’s brains. Fear increased as scientists learned more about the sickness, which also attacks moose and elk. Called chronic wasting disease (CWD), the disorder interferes with the stricken animal’s vital functions, making it more susceptible to malnutrition, degradation, and infection. Death typically comes after a painful two years. A Colorado Parks and Wildlife program conducted between 2015 and 2017 found that 16 percent of bucks tested in one deer herd had the disease—and if scientists can’t figure out how best to manage the affliction, it will continue to spread. But there is good news. Earlier this year, a team of ranchers, outfitters, and wildlife organizations formed the Colorado Chronic Wasting Disease Advisory Group to stop—or at least slow—the proliferation of the illness. “There’s no silver bullet answer to this,” says Matt Dunfee, a member of the committee. “It’s more like a load of silver BBs out of a shotgun shell.” Later this year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will present a final draft of its CWD management plan, developed with input from the advisory group. Hopefully, that ammo will help turn the disease into a scary story with a happy ending.

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