Washington State University Receives $100K Grant to Study Elk Hoof Disease

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Washington State University received a $100,000 grant last week to help study elk hoof disease.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation awarded the money to WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine. The grant will help fund the construction of an elk hoof disease research facility, according to a news release from the RMEF.

Construction on the $1.2 million facility started in May. The 4-acre site will hold captive elk in 10 isolation pens, a handling facility and two 1.5-acre pastures. Researchers will study the poorly understood disease in that controlled environment, according to the release.

Construction should be done late this year, with elk entering the facility in early 2020.

Elk hoof disease resembles hoof diseases that occur in domestic livestock and originated in Washington since spreading to Oregon and Idaho.

"Hoof disease is affecting more and more elk in the Pacific Northwest," said Blake Henning, RMEF's chief conservation officer in a news release. "This facility will give researchers a hands-on opportunity to better determine its cause as well as why and how it spreads."

Limping elk and elk with hoof deformities were first documented in Washington in the early 2000s, with sightings greatly increasing around 2008. The disease wasn't formally diagnosed until 2014 after five years of analysis by five independent laboratories. While relatively common in livestock, hoof disease caused by treponeme bacteria had not previously been diagnosed in wildlife.

The disease is most common in southwestern Washington, particularly the Willapa Hills and Mount St. Helens herds.

Earlier this year, the disease made its way to southeast Washington's Blue Mountains. The disease has been documented in some elk killed in the Oregon part of the Blue Mountains. In February, the disease was confirmed in Idaho near White Bird. In 2018, WDFW confirmed the disease for the first time east of the Cascades.

In 2018, the Legislature allocated $3 million to WSU for two years of work on elk hoof disease.

"I am eager to get started with research on captive elk that will be housed in the facility," said veterinarian Margaret Wild, the lead scientist for the program. "RMEF's generous contribution could not have come at a better time during construction. This is the first grant we've received to supplement our funding and it makes it apparent the organization and its members, along with WSU, are dedicated to ensuring elk herds remain healthy and viable for future generations."

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