When the National Western Stock Show stampedes into town on January 12 for its yearly two-week stay, one of the regular guests won't be part of the party. The elk, which were added to the show's lineup of unusual livestock just a few years ago, will be staying home this time, while the rest of the animals -- from cows, horses, pigs and goats to llamas, rabbits, bison and yaks -- entertain the crowds.
That's because new restrictions put into place by the Colorado Division of Wildlife to deal with 2001's devastating outbreak of the deadly chronic wasting disease (CWD) would have prevented many elk breeders in other states from coming into Colorado; those new rules require that breeders be able to prove they've been testing their herds for CWD for at least 36 months in order for their animals to be allowed into the state, according to Ron Walker, president of the Colorado Elk Breeders Association.
As a result, Stock Show officials, in coordination with state and local breeders' groups, decided to cut elk participation entirely. "Hopefully, we will be back and running next year," Walker says. Also canceled were the Colorado Select Elk Sale, an annual auction, and the Beginning Elk Ranching Seminar (which will be held later in the year).
But that's not to say that Colorado's stateliest member of the Cervidae family won't have any presence at the stock show. The association is still trying to put together an elk-burger giveaway as a public-relations move designed to ease people's fears about CWD and show them that venison isn't menacin'. (While CWD's cattle cousin, mad cow disease, is transmissible to humans, scientist don't believe the same is true of CWD.) "I don't know how many thousands of burgers we gave away last year, but, goodness, it was a bunch," Walker says. "We've got the meat donations from our members. Now we're trying to see if we have enough volunteers. It takes a pretty good bunch of people to do that."
Since the association pulled off a free feed at the Stock Show last year, Walker hopes to avoid an uproar like the one that got some people's antlers in a knot this past October. After the elk breeders' group announced it would serve 1,400 free elk burgers during Elkfest 2001 in Estes Park, local restaurateurs complained that the giveaway would compete with their businesses, and the handout was canceled.
The elk industry is hoping for a much happier 2002. "I look forward to a bigger and better sale at the Stock Show next year," Walker says, "when all of this will be behind us."