Second CWD case confirmed

First positive testing at Motherwell Ranch was a year ago

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A second captive bull elk has tested positive for chronic wasting disease at the Motherwell Ranch, the Colorado Department of Agriculture confirmed Thursday.

The 3 1/2-year-old bull elk was killed by a hunter and then found with CWD in the past year, said Jim Miller, the department's policy director. Miller could not say exactly when the positive elk was found.

About a year ago, a 4-year-old captive bull elk was found with CWD at the Motherwell.

News of a second positive case was not released earlier because a herd plan for managing the Motherwell's more than 200 captive elk was still in the works, Miller said.

"We didn't want to further complicate those discussions with the owners" of the Motherwell Ranch, Miller said.

The finding is being released now because of requests under the Colorado Open Records Act.

Also, the Colorado Department of Agriculture revealed on Wednesday that one of 41 elk at the Blue Sky Elk Ranch in Meeker tested positive in August for CWD. In December, the Blue Sky Elk Ranch was depopulated with the agreement of the owners.

Previously, it has been the Department's policy to release details as soon as a captive elk has been found with CWD, said Linh Truong, spokeswoman for the Department.

However, in this case, officials waited to release the finding until they knew whether other contaminated animals had left the ranch -- there were none -- and what the next step in dealing with the ranch would be.

The change in procedures is not set in stone, Truong said. She said she did not have a perfect answer for why the department chose to wait in this case. "We're learning as we go," she said.

The 6-year-old female elk on the 70-acre Blue Sky Elk Ranch died in June but was tested for CWD in August. When the test came back positive, the herd of 40 animals was quarantined, Truong said.

Ranch owner Shane Phelan agreed to depopulate the herd and was paid through an appraisal process. The entire herd was taken to Colorado State University to be killed and tested for CWD, and all 40 animals tested negative. The ranch has been operating since 1995. The owners had no comment.

Depopulation has been the course of action with other ranches except the Motherwell Ranch and the Velvet Ridge Ranch in Fort Collins, a very small ranch.

The Steamboat Pilot & Today submitted a Colorado Open Records Act request Thursday with the Department of Agriculture, seeking more details about the Blue Sky Ranch case.

The second positive bull elk found at the ranch was raised on the 1,800-acre Motherwell Ranch in Hamilton, just south of Craig, Miller said. It had a very good rating for its antlers.

It was found with the earliest stage of CWD, Miller said, which means it probably was not shedding the infection and contaminating the area.

Miller said a finalized herd plan for the Motherwell could take another month, possibly more. That plan would outline how many -- if any -- of the ranch's more than 200 elk need to be killed.

The Motherwell Ranch, owned by Las Vegas contractor Wes Adams, has been under quarantine since CWD was found in the first captive elk.

Tom Cox, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association, said the elk industry diligently tests animals for CWD.

"When we're finding them now in our herds, we're (determining) that they were most likely contaminated with the wild herd," Cox said.

-- To reach Susan Cunningham, call 871-4203 or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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