AR-News: (US-CO) CWD kills ranches along with the elk

jim robertson wolfcrest at
Mon Sep 29 19:37:32 EDT 2003

CWD kills ranches along with the elk
Vanishing antler market, restrictions on sales hamstring game farms

By Gary Gerhardt, Rocky Mountain News
September 29, 2003

Judith Harrington loves her elk like family.

But chronic wasting disease and the ensuing bad publicity about Colorado elk 
have proved too much for the Steamboat Springs rancher.


She's putting her elk herd on the block, advertising in newspapers to allow 
people to shoot her grain-fed animals - $500 for a cow, $1,000 and up for a 

"I've had it, and I'm retiring," she said. "I'm moving back East to be with 
my family."

The number of Colorado elk ranches has dropped from about 150 a few years 
ago to about 70 today, said Jim Miller, spokesman for the state Department 
of Agriculture. Some ranchers in northeastern Colorado were able to get a 
buyout because they were in the CWD endemic area.

Others weren't so lucky.

"As an industry now, I believe it's pretty much like any other agricultural 
enterprise: The smaller, hobby-level ranches supported by the owner working 
at another business to pay for it, and the huge commercial enterprises, are 
making it," Miller said.

"The in-between groups, however, are the ones that can't make it."

Walker said the bottom fell out of the elk market about two years ago when 
worries about CWD peaked.

"A few years ago, velvet antlers sold for $65 to $70 a pound. Today it's $12 
to $15 on the average. Before the CWD scare in 2000, the semen sold for 
$3,000, and today it's $50 to $500 a draw."

Harrington, 58, arrived in Steamboat more than a decade ago with her former 
husband and purchased a couple thousand acres northwest of the city.

He was in the shipping business and vacationed in Steamboat, and she had 
graduated from Colorado State College (now the University of Northern 
Colorado) in Greeley and also came often to Steamboat. So it seemed natural 
after they married in Miami to return and build a second home there.

"At first we raised hay, then decided to get some livestock," she said.

"We ruled out cattle because the market was soft at the time. We ruled out 
emu because they are too ugly. We didn't want buffalo because they are 

"That left elk, and everyone we talked to who had them said they were 
perfect because they were gentle, easy on the pastures and this was their 
natural setting."

All went well until chronic wasting disease reared its ugly head in the 
1980s, infecting elk and deer in the wild first, and in the last couple of 
years showing up in ranched herds.

CWD is a neurological disorder that attacks the brains of deer and elk 
causing death.

It never has been shown to affect humans that eat the meat or use medicine 
made from the antlers, but the affliction's close association with mad cow 
disease caused many markets for elk products to dry up.

"The first was Korea that banned importation of all antlers from North 
America," said Ron Walker, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders 
Association. "That was the largest market for antlers."

And because the state wouldn't allow farmed elk to be shipped into the state 
until herds for sale had been under surveillance for five years, the market 
dried up for many.

Harrington's herd has been under such surveillance, so it's unlikely any of 
her animals have CWD. Still, Colorado elk are now tainted by the publicity.

She wants people to shoot half of the 75 bulls and 120 cows she has on her 
ranch, but she said there is no sport in it.

"They are in a small pen, and I want it done quickly and efficiently," she 
said. "It's strictly for the meat."

After making her decision to allow the slaughter of her animals she said, 
"At first I cried and cried and cried. Then I woke up one morning and just 
quit crying. Now I'm angry."

If a person wants the meat but can't bring themselves to shoot an animal, 
they can give her hired hand $100 to put the animal down and take it to the 

"I can't stand to watch it. I never go out there when it's being done," 
Harrington said.

The last time Harrington sold elk was in 2001 when she sold 70-plus animals. 
Then CWD hit. Now she has a buyer for her bulls in New Mexico, but that 
state won't let in any elk from Colorado.

"Because of CWD, Utah won't take any elk from ranches north of I-70, which 
is where I live," she said.

gerhardtg at or 303-892-5202,1299,DRMN_21_2306363,00.html

The rights of a species or habitat to
exist takes precedence over the rights of any group of human beings to 
destroy it.
Paul Watson

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