Boulder County Commission vote limits DOW deer management


Mar 11, 2001
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Vote limits DOW's ability to kill deer.

March 13, 2002

Rocky Mtn News

Boulder County decision on parks affects efforts to fight wasting disease

By Todd Hartman, News Staff Writer

The Colorado Division of Wildlife hit its most significant hurdle yet in its efforts to contain the spread of chronic wasting disease -- Boulder County commissioners.
The county officials, peppered with protests from foothills residents, voted 2-1 Tuesday to limit the division's ability to kill wild deer on Boulder County Parks and Open Space lands.

While activists sporting yellow buttons with deer heads on them were elated, division officials were concerned. Boulder County contains the southernmost occurrence of deadly CWD known in the world. Limiting the ability to contain it there could push it further south, said Janet George, a division biologist.

That argument didn't sway commissioners.

"Sharpshooting in parks and open space land, that's a real bummer for me," said Commissioner Jana Mendez, who -- opposed to killing any deer on county lands -- voted against the plan altogether. "That's not what we've purchased open space for."

Under the scaled-down approach, the division won't be allowed to take any animals in southern areas of county open space, and will be limited to trapping or darting -- then killing -- the deer on county lands farther north.

"It's better than nothing," said Division of Wildlife veterinarian Mike Miller, weary after a public beating by opponents who complained his culling strategy is overkill -- literally. "We'll do the best job we can within the constraints that have been laid out."

While numerous private landowners have rejected, or limited, DOW's culling plans, Boulder County is the first public agency to do so. Larimer County officials have OK'd DOW plans to shoot deer on county land there.

Because there is no easy live-animal test for CWD, biologists must kill the deer, then sample tissue in the animal's brain to detect the disease.

Restricting killing methods to trapping and darting poses significant risks. Darted deer will often sprint away before being knocked out, forcing hunters to track them down. Trapping deer requires tricking them into a small, boxlike structure.

"The analogy is like trying to do carpentry work and all you have is a Phillips screwdriver, when you also need a flathead -- it's tough," Miller said.

Of further concern to wildlife officials: They recently shot a small herd of 12 deer along the border of Boulder and Larimer counties, on Rabbit Mountain near Boulder County open space. Four of the deer tested positive -- an infection rate of 33 percent.

While official acknowledge that 12 deer is too small a sample to be statistically significant, they say that rate raises the question of how deep infection may be penetrating other herds nearby, something that will now be more difficult to discover on Boulder County lands.

But DOW critics, many from the Sugarloaf area west of Boulder, argued that state officials are overreacting to a disease that may be a natural check on population. By shooting healthy animals alongside sick ones, they said, the state may be taking animals that are naturally resistant to the disease -- thus interfering in natural selection.

"It's typical for there to be sharp spikes on emerging diseases," said Charles Southwick, a retired biology professor. "The important thing is we let this disease come into a reasonably natural balance."

CWD is a cousin of mad-cow disease, the affliction believed responsible for more than 100 deaths in England and Europe. Scientists don't believe CWD can infect humans, but still advise caution when eating an infected deer or elk.

Kevin Jones, a hunter and a professor at the University of Colorado's Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, spoke of the public's options.

"We can kill deer, and try to bring this under control. Or we can wait and see what happens," he said, enumerating the risks associated with both. "Then there's a final risk -- that this disease jumps into another species."

Contact Todd Hartman at (303) 892-5048 or


Dec 31, 2001
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These are the same people who scream at the DOW every year about the deer eating their shrubs.  They'll never learn and you can bet when deer start dieing on there lawns they'll want something done.  Trouble is, in the Peoples Rebublic of Boulder, they'll expect someone else to pick up the tab.

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