Some business owners in Minnesota and Wisconsin are worried about chronic wasting disease. They're afraid deer hunters will stay home this year. So far, in Minnesota, deer license sales are down - but only slightly. It's hard to know what will happen down the road, but maybe Colorado can offer a clue. CWD showed up in Colorado 30 years ago, and hunting is still going strong there.
It's tricky to compare western states to Minnesota when it comes to CWD. For one thing, the wild deer population here is much denser. For another, Colorado has a huge number of wild elk, and there aren't any in Minnesota. But Minnesota has the most captive elk of any state. So the disease might follow a different course here.
But there might be some lessons to be learned about the way hunters react to CWD.
Wildlife officials say hunters will kill about 100,000 elk and deer this year in Colorado. They say license sales have held steady over the years, in spite of CWD.
"Hunting looks like it's going to be doing very well this fall," says Todd Malmsbury of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He says the state's sold more licenses this year than it did last year.
"People who make their money off of hunting - that is, hotel owners and outfitters and other people in some of the more rural parts of Colorado - are expecting to have a very good season, and already are having one," Malmsbury says.
CWD is most widespread in the northeastern part of Colorado. That's where it was detected three decades ago. It's still not common there.
The Divison of Wildlife says about 5 percent of deer in that region have the disease. Less than 1 percent of the elk have it. But the disease is slowly showing up in other parts of the state. It crossed the Rocky Mountains this year, so CWD is new to northwestern Colorado.
In that part of the state, hunting is a big business. The town Craig is about 50 miles west of Steamboat Springs. In Craig, some businesses make a third of their money during hunting season.
Jim Simos owns a store called Cashway Distributors in Craig. He sells hunting gear and hunting licenses. The bow season just ended, and the gun season is about to start.
"Business has been brisk," Simos says. "It's been good. I have no complaints. And I get calls from hunters from all over the country - all over the United States - and they don't seem too worried about it."
Simos says only a fraction of his customers even ask about CWD.
It's the same story at the Craig Chamber of Commerce, where Tony Stoffle answers questions from hunters.
"There's very little concern, it seems, on chronic wasting disease," Stoffle says. "I've had more people call in worried about the fires that we've had out West."
Stoffle says the town of Craig is actually doing more hunting business this year than it did last year, in spite of CWD showing up in the area.
Testing is part of the reason, according to Todd Malmsbury from the Division of Wildlife. He says the state is making it easier for hunters to find out if the animal they killed is disease-free. There are drop-off stations all over the state where hunters can turn in an animal head for testing. Malmsbury hopes about half the hunters in Colorado get their animals tested this fall.
"This is part of our surveillance program," he says. "This tells us where the disease does and does not exist. There's no better way to do that, given the number of deer and elk killed by hunters, than to have the hunters submit their animals for testing."
Malmsbury says having hunters voluntarily turn in deer and elk heads gives the Division of Wildlife "automatic surveillance."
"We're asking them to pay $17 each," he says, "so it's going to cover part of the cost."
So far, there's no way for most hunters in Minnesota and Wisconsin to get their deer tested for CWD. Both states will test thousands of deer this fall, but those animals will come from designated zones. Outside the zones, hunters cannot just drop off an animal head for testing.
A company in Wisconsin says it's developing a way hunters can test for CWD, but that service isn't on the market yet.More from MPR