SUMMER SURVEY: Elk with severe hoof disease to be killed

Elk seen this summer that have severe symptoms of hoof disease will likely be killed. Those elk will be identified during surveys of elk done in Southwest Washington by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

State wildlife managers plan to recruit dozens of volunteers to help assess the prevalence and geographic distribution of the disease in the St. Helens and Willapa Hills elk herds.

To minimize the spread of the disease, the department also is proposing new regulations requiring hunters to leave the hooves of any elk taken in the affected area on site.

The department announced its plan Monday, two weeks after a 16-member scientific panel agreed that the disease most likely involves a type of bacterial infection that leaves elk with missing or misshapen hooves.

Members of the panel agreed the disease closely resembles contagious ovine digital dermatitis in sheep.

Kristin Mansfield, epidemiologist for the department, said the panel’s conclusion is consistent with the findings of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Disease Center and four other independent diagnostic laboratories that have tested samples of elk hooves sent in by the state agency since last year.

Mansfield said treponeme bacteria have been linked to an increase of hoof disease in sheep and cattle in many parts of the world, but have never before been documented in elk or other wildlife.

Nate Pamplin, director of the wildlife program, said the department’s management options are limited because there is no vaccine for the disease and no proven options for treating it in the field.

“At this point, we don’t know whether we can contain this disease,” Pamplin said in a release, “but we do know that assessing its impacts and putting severely crippled animals out of their misery is the right thing to do.”