CRAIG, Colo. (AP) -- State wildlife officials have fanned out across northwestern Colorado and are preparing to cull 300 wild deer to learn whether a fatal brain disease has spread.
Two mule deer within the 6,000-acre Motherwell Ranch near Craig have tested positive for chronic wasting disease. Those were the first cases discovered in wild deer west of the Continental Divide.
''We want at least 300 heads for a viable sampling,'' said Mike Miller, veterinarian for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. ''We'll concentrate on animals within a five-mile radius of the ranch, and if any prove positive for CWD, we'll expand the circle.''
On Monday, state agriculture officials visited the ranch, operated by Western State Outdoors, to deliver a quarantine notice that prohibits the movement of the ranch's remaining 100 domestic elk, even though no elk at the ranch have tested positive.
''Right now we're being extra cautious,'' said Linh Truong, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture.
Last fall, Division of Wildlife managers killed 280 deer and about 30 elk after the facility's owner erected a fence for his captive elk and entrapped them.
State policy prohibits the mingling of wild game and domestic animals to limit the spread of diseases such as CWD.
Preliminary lab work performed in Fort Collins last week suggested three of 164 deer for which test results were available had the ailment. Two of those cases have been confirmed. Another 120 samples remain to be tested.
If wasting disease spreads, it could have a devastating impact on communities that rely on money spent by elk and deer hunters, Gov. Bill Owens said last week.
Owens has announced the creation of a chronic wasting disease working group to advise him on strategies against the disease. It was expected to be in place by the end of the week.
Within the past 10 years, chronic wasting disease has infected elk ranches, along with wild deer and elk, in parts of the Great Plains and Rockies.
The fatal contagious illness is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is not known to spread from deer and elk to cattle or people, but scientists say that cannot be ruled out.
No reliable method exists to detect the disease in live animals, so they must be killed for testing.
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