Steamboat Springs More than 400 deer and elk were killed in a five-day period in an effort by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to try and control the chronic wasting disease outbreak in Northwest Colorado.
Last week, DOW officials killed 420 deer and elk within a five-mile radius of the Motherwell Ranch, which is southwest of Hayden.
Officials killed 286 deer and 134 elk between April 15 and Friday because five deer in the area have tested positive for the fatal brain disease.
The deer and elk were killed in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading through the spring migration. The heads of the animals will be tested for CWD, and results are expected within the next two weeks.
"We feel we were very successful," said Todd Malmsbury, a DOW spokesman. "Migration was beginning."
This culling effort was the result of a similar effort that took place the first week in April.
Officials killed 329 deer within the five-mile radius of the Motherwell Ranch because two deer killed inside the ranch last winter tested positive for the disease.
The deer, which had been fenced in with a domestic elk herd last summer, were the first animals found with the disease on the Western Slope. How the deer got the disease is under investigation.
A mutant protein causes CWD, and there is not a vaccine or a cure for it. There is also no way to test a live animal for CWD. The disease is also not linked to any neurological disease that affects humans.
Because of these two cases of CWD, which attacks the brains of infected deer and elk, causing the animals to starve to death, state officials acted aggressively.
Officials killed 311 deer between April 1-3. Eighteen more deer were killed a week later after two deer tested positive for CWD. From this effort, a fifth deer also tested positive.
Because of the spring migration and the five known cases, officials decided to kill all deer and elk found within the five-mile radius of the ranch.
During the culling efforts, officials used two helicopters and hunted the animals from dawn until dusk.
Helping DOW officials in the effort were representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife and volunteers from the Mule Deer Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Traditional Bowhunters Association, the Colorado Outfitters Association and the Colorado Bowhunters Association.
Volunteers helped haul animals to a staging area where heads were removed. The heads are being tested for CWD at a lab in Fort Collins. Carcasses were disposed of through a mobile incinerator, said Susan Werner, a DOW official in Steamboat Springs.
Malmsbury said the effort would not have been possible had it not been for the cooperation of private landowners.
"We would not have any chance to stop the disease in its tracks in western Colorado without the help of the private land owners," he said. "People are taking this very seriously. They know how important this is."
With a total of 749 deer and elk killed within three weeks, officials do not know at this point if culling efforts will continue later this summer.
"A definite decision has not been made," Werner said. "There are an awful lot of unanswered questions."
The Motherwell Ranch is also being impacted because of the outbreak. The Department of Agriculture plans to eliminate the ranch of the 140 elk it currently houses.
Officials are not sure when the elk will be killed. However, the department has quarantined the facility to ensure none of the elk leave the premises. Once the elk are killed, they also will be tested for CWD.