By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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State wildlife officials will likely euthanize elk with severe symptoms of the crippling aliment after assessing the prevalence of hoof disease in Willapa Hills and Mount St. Helens herds this summer, the agency announced Monday.
The state announced its culling plan after a 16-member scientific panel agreed that the disease is most likely a bacterial infection that leaves elk with missing or misshapen hooves.
Since 2008, the state has received increasing reports of affected herds in Cowlitz, Pacific, Lewis, Clark, Wahkiakum and Grays Harbor counties.
Mick Cope, regional wildlife program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in Montesano, said no cases have been confirmed north of U.S. Highway 12, which cuts across the south end of the Olympic Peninsula.
The bacterial disease has “worked its way up to being more of a concern” in Southwest Washington because it is “more prevalent, and it's expanding,” Cope said.
“The disease is related to a bacteria that lives in wet soil,” he added.
“It takes awhile [to spread] because it's soil-based.”
Cope said it is possible that hoof rot will eventually make its way north into Clallam and Jefferson counties.
The state will enlist dozens of volunteers to help with the elk survey in Southwest Washington.
Proposing new rules
Fish and Wildlife also is proposing new rules requiring hunters to leave the hooves of elk taken on the affected site to minimize the spread of the disease.
The scientific panel, composed of veterinarians and researchers, said the hoof disease resembles contagious ovine digital dermatitis in sheep.
There is no vaccine and no proven way to treat the disease in the field, officials said.
There is no evidence that the bacteria is harmful to humans.
“At this point, we don't know whether we can contain this disease,” Nate Pamplin, director of Fish and Wildlife's wildlife program, said in a Monday news release.
“But we do know that assessing its impacts and putting severely crippled animals out of their misery is the right thing to do,” he said.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.