Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
Washington Department of Fish and Game
Up to 20 elk infected with a hoof disease in south-central Washington will be shot by wildlife managers this month to contain a bacteria associated with digital dermatitis in cattle, sheep and goats.
Treponeme-associated hoof disease, seen in elk in Western Washington for more than decade, was found in April in the Trout Lake Valley in Klickitat County. It was the first case in Washington east of the Cascades.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s hoof disease coordinator, Kyle Garrison, said Wednesday the department has no evidence that the bacteria is being passed from elk to livestock. Researchers, however, have “big knowledge gaps” in how the disease spreads, he said.
While livestock made lame by the bacteria can be treated with foot baths, euthanizing infected elk is the only practical way to keep the disease from continuing to spread east, Garrison said.
“We’ve never attempted this before for this disease,” he said. “We don’t know how well it will work.”
The hoof disease emerged in the Mount St. Helens elk herd in southwest Washington in the late 1990s. The disease deforms hooves and causes severe limping and has been confirmed in elk in 11 counties west of the Cascades.
Partly motivated by concern over livestock, state lawmakers have instructed Washington State University to search for a way to stop the disease. The school is interviewing candidates to lead the project.
The disease also been found in Western Oregon as far south as Marion and Benton counties, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. There have scattered cases in northeast Oregon, according to the department.
The infection has been found in only the two states, said WSU veterinary professor Tom Besser, who has served on a state work group on the disease. “It’s a local, local problem,” he said.
Besser said the risk of the bacteria moving from elk to livestock is unknown. “I think we know too little to have a very informed opinion right now,” he said.
Wildlife managers learned the disease had crossed the Cascade crest when an elk with a deformed hoof was hit and killed by a vehicle in early April.
In mid-April, department employees counted at least seven limping elk in the valley. They shot one animal to obtain a hoof. Tests at the USDA National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, and at Colorado State University confirmed that the bacteria, associated with moist ground, had spread to a drier climate.
Trout Lake Valley is on the eastern edge of the Mount St. Helens elk herd. Klickitat County rancher Keith Kreps said the elk population in the region has been growing. “The big concern for the ranchers is that (the infection) will cross over,” he said.
Washington will contract with USDA Wildlife Services to euthanize elk that are severely limping or have deformed hooves.
Garrison said wildlife managers believe only a small percentage of the elk in the valley are infected.
Fewer than 20 elk may have the disease, he said. “We feel pretty strongly we’re not going to have to exceed that number.”
Limping elk or elk with hoof deformities may be reported to the department online at: wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/health/hoof_disease/