Hayden Wildlife officials will kill more deer this week now that two more tests have come back positive for chronic wasting disease.
And even after the remainder of the deer in the vicinity of the Motherwell Ranch are killed, future culling efforts will still be required.
Last week, wildlife agents killed 311 wild deer within a five-mile radius of the Motherwell, which is in southwestern Routt County near Pagoda. Officials are also planning to eliminate the ranch of its captive elk.
Officials killed the deer to determine if chronic wasting disease had spread from outside the ranch, where two deer mixed in with a domestic elk herd last summer tested positive for the disease. Officials announced Tuesday morning two of the deer killed during April 1-3 tested positive for the disease.
"This is very concerning," Gov. Bill Owens said during a meeting Tuesday with local officials in Hayden. "But what would have been tragic is if there would have been 30 or 40. This was two out of 300. It is 1 percent. It is not the worst case."
Because of the test results, the DOW was organizing Tuesday afternoon to kill additional deer in the area where the two deer were slain. Deer killed during this effort will also be tested for the fatal brain disease. Officials have to kill the deer to determine if the disease has spread.
The disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to starve to death. A mutant protein causes the disease, and there is not a vaccine or a cure for it. How CWD is spread is not known. There is also no viable way to test a live animal for the disease.
"We don't know all that we need to know," said Russell George, DOW director.
Where each deer was slain last week was documented by DOW agents using hand-held global positioning system devices.
"We know where the two deer were found," George said. "They were killed a mile or two from the center of the Motherwell Ranch. They were killed a mile apart. We are going to harvest everything we find from those two points.
"We are going to take out what we find. If it looks infected, they are dead."
Ron Velarde, who is the DOW Western Slope regional manager, is organizing the culling effort. Velarde said the private property where the two deer were killed has been designated as a "hot spot."
"We will harvest what we find in the hot spot," he said. "From my perspective, we need to take an aggressive stance: zero tolerance and move on from there.
"When we go in there, we are going to have to take them all."
Velarde said he will have two to three agents in the area killing deer.
Owens praised the wildlife agents that have to perform this task.
"It goes against the grain of having to kill," Owens said. "But to save wildlife that is what they have to do. It is a tremendous challenge our professionals are facing."
Along with the effort this week, additional deer culling is being planned during the summer. Officials said neighboring units of this particular area will be targeted, and 300 more deer could be killed.
"We might issue special hunt licenses," George said. "Three hundred deer seems to be the statistical sound sample we need."
Velarde said the DOW discovered the outbreak at the Motherwell Ranch by being proactive.
The 281 entrapped wild deer and 43 entrapped wild elk killed at the Motherwell Ranch during public hunts in January and February were tested by the DOW.
Although CWD is not linked to any neurological disease that affects humans, officials are urging anyone who has meat from the hunts not to eat it until the testing is complete.
More than 170 deer harvested at the Motherwell Ranch have tested negative for the disease. None of the captive elk at the facility has been tested for CWD by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
However, the department is planning to depopulate the ranch of the 140 elk it currently houses, said Linh Truong, public information officer for the Department of Agriculture.
Truong said she is not sure when the elk will be killed. However, the department has quarantined the facility to ensure none of the elk leave the premises, she said.
Once the elk are killed, they also will be tested for CWD, she said.