Researcher: brain disease could reach 70 percent

Laramie, Wyo. – A government researcher says Chronic Wasting Disease could someday affect up to 70 percent of deer and elk populations in Wyoming.

Bryan Richards studies the fatal brain disease at the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin. He says Chronic Wasting Disease is like a slow-moving wildfire moving through herds of deer and elk.

"It may not be in my time or your lifetime, but I see no biological force out there that will prevent disease from spreading geographically and increasing in prevalence locally up to these levels," Richards says.

Researchers are still unsure how higher rates of Chronic Wasting Disease will affect herd populations, but several studies are underway. Prevalence rates near Sybille in Wyoming have reached more than 40 percent in recent years. Richards says it is hard to imagine how the disease will not harm herd numbers if Chronic Wasting Disease continues to spread.

"If this disease could go along, reach 50, 60, 70 percent prevalence and still no impacts at the herd level that would be very interesting," Richards says. "But if it reaches that level and we start to see population impacts, then the consequences of that will be pretty dramatic."

Richards says the disease could impact local economies that depend on hunting revenue. He says the only way to see how bad it will become is by watching and waiting.