The state Department of Fish & Wildlife will euthanize elk in Eastern Washington that are found to be infected with a hoof disease.
The method is part of an effort to contain the spread of the disease.
The disease was first found in the state’s elk herds about a decade ago in southern parts of Western Washington. It was found in recent years in the northwest part of the state, including in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Fish & Wildlife Hoof Disease Coordinator Kyle Garrison said if euthanizing infected elk in Eastern Washington is effective at eradicating the disease from the area and preventing its spread, the method could also be used in areas such as Skagit County where some elk have been crippled by the disease.
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In Skagit County, an elk killed in a collision with a vehicle on Highway 20 and an elk killed by a hunter were found to be infected with the disease.
The disease is caused by a bacteria that can cause hoof deformities. The bacteria is known to thrive in wet, muddy soil.
While known for causing lameness in livestock, the hoof disease surfaced among elk in the state in 2008 near the Oregon border, according to Fish & Wildlife.
Garrison said when the disease was found in Skagit and Whatcom counties in 2015, Fish & Wildlife had just begun a project to understand the impacts of the disease on elk survival and productivity, and the agency was still developing ways to document the distribution and prevalence of the disease.
“The department is now better prepared to test the strategy of selectively removing infected elk to prevent the establishment and spread of this disease,” he said.
In the first week of April, a resident of Trout Lake in Klickitat County sent Fish & Wildlife a deformed hoof from an elk killed in a collision with a vehicle, according to a news release.
Fish & Wildlife staff observed several living elk limping in the area and euthanized one in order to test its hooves.
According to the release, the state agency will this month euthanize up to 20 elk showing symptoms of the disease in the Trout Lake area.
“This is the first time the department has tried to stop the advance of the disease by removing affected elk,” Garrison said in the release. “There’s no guarantee of success, but we believe a rapid response might contain this outbreak given the isolation of Trout Lake and the low prevalence of elk showing symptoms of the disease.”
Meanwhile, Washington State University is researching the disease through a contract with Fish & Wildlife.
Fish & Wildlife is asking the public to report sightings of deformed hooves and limping elk, and is requiring that hunters discard deformed hooves where the elk is killed.