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          Front Page




Disease Hits N.M. Hunting Site

By Jeff Jones
Journal Staff Writer
    A fatal wildlife disease that could pose a big threat to New Mexico's deer and elk herds appears to be on the march.
    An old, sickly mule deer doe found dead in the southern New Mexico community of Timberon last month has tested positive for chronic wasting disease, the New Mexico Game and Fish Department said Tuesday.
    The animal is the 12th New Mexico deer since 2002 to have tested positive for what wildlife biologists refer to as CWD. But all of the other cases were from a single, isolated area in the Organ Mountains on White Sands Missile Range.
    Timberon is about 50 miles from that site. It sits on the edge of the Lincoln National Forest and is in the Sacramento Mountains.
    Timberon also is in big-game hunting Unit 34— one of New Mexico's better deer-hunting areas.
    "I kind of hoped I'd retire before it got out of White Sands," Game and Fish wildlife disease specialist Kerry Mower said Tuesday.
    Unit 34 is "one of the closest deer herds to our other positive area. In one way, this isn't surprising," Mower said. "In another way, it's our worst nightmare— because Unit 34 is one of our good deer areas in the state."
    Chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of captive and wild elk and deer, and has spread through wild-game populations in a number of states. Some states have responded to the CWD threat by authorizing the mass slaughter of wild-game herds.
    Although CWD is deadly to game animals, a Game and Fish news release said there is no evidence it is transmitted to livestock or people.
    "The origin of the disease in New Mexico is unknown," the agency said.
    Before Monday's bad news, the state appeared to be faring well with the disease: The area where it had cropped up is isolated from other deer herds, and no New Mexico elk has ever tested positive for CWD.
    Big-game hunting has a substantial economic impact in many parts of rural New Mexico. Each fall, in-state hunters buy gas, groceries and other hunting gear, while some out-of-state hunters employ hunting guides and outfitters.
    Since the first White Sands deer tested positive in 2002, Game and Fish has done CWD testing on brain and lymph-node samples from nearly 1,500 big-game animals, many of them from Unit 34, said Game and Fish assistant director Luke Shelby. The Timberon deer was the first positive test from outside the isolated area on White Sands.
    Mower said a Game and Fish officer on June 6 responded to a dead-deer report on a Timberon landowner's property.
    The deer was in "terrible shape," Mower said. It had no body fat and substantial muscle loss. A sample from the deer was sent off to a Colorado State University laboratory, which diagnosed the CWD.
    The game officer who handles the Timberon area has in the past received other reports concerning sick-looking deer, Mower said. Game and Fish plans to test other deer in Unit 34 in an effort to determine if the disease is widespread.
    Chronic wasting disease
   
  • A neurological disorder similar to mad cow disease that attacks the brains of both captive and wild deer and elk.
       
  • Fatal to the game animals it infects; there is no evidence CWD is transmitted to humans or livestock.
       
  • The disease has an incubation period of five years or more.
       
  • Infected animals become emaciated, display abnormal behavior and lose control of their bodily functions.
        -- Source: New Mexico Game and Fish