Hunters asked to report elk hoof disease

The public, especially hunters, are being asked to aid the state in monitoring the spread of hoof disease among elk in 10 southwest Washington counties.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife asks anyone who spots an elk with hoof deformities that is limping or dead to report what they see via a website.

The department is primarily interested in receiving reports outside the primary area of infection in nine game management units in and around Cowlitz County, where the disease is already well documented, Sandra Jonker, WDFW regional wildlife manager, said in a news release.

“Our focus now is on assessing the spread of the disease to other parts of the region,” Jonker said in the release. “Gaining more information about the incidence and geographical distribution of the disease will help determine how best to manage it.”

While limping elk have been seen as far north as Bellingham and as far east as Icicle Creek west of Leavenworth, the vast majority of reports come from a band extending east from Willapa Bay to the Cowlitz River valley west of Packwood.

The website is capable of accepting reports from the field using a cellphone. Once filed, those reports immediately will appear on the department’s website.

Diagnostic testing conducted over the past year indicates hoof disease in elk closely resembles a contagious bacterial infection in sheep, according to the news release. There is no evidence the bacteria is harmful to humans, but there is no vaccine for elk that contract the disease, Jonker said. Tests also have shown the disease does not affect animals’ meat or organs.

In one step to help prevent the spread of the disease, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission this summer approved a new rule requiring hunters in 10 southwest Washington counties to remove the hooves of any elk they harvest and leave them on site.