Elk NetworkHelp Fight Elk Hoof Disease in Washington

General | September 16, 2022

If you plan on chasing elk this hunting season in Washington, this message is for you: We need your eyes!

The Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine is the only place in the world with a program exclusively devoted to studying elk hoof disease. To aid its ongoing work, it needs help from the public sector.

“One way that the public has been helping for years is by submitting observations of limping elk and reports of abnormal hooves,” Margaret A. Wild, professor and lead of the elk hoof disease research team, wrote in her fall 2020 newsletter. “Hunters also have a role to play in reporting elk with abnormal hooves. Observations that are particularly important to report to state wildlife managers are elk with abnormal hooves harvested in locations where hoof disease is not known to occur or occurs at a low level, like in eastern Washington.”

To assist the observation process, some states have online reporting systems in place, like Washington.

The WSU lab also uses information supplied by Washington hunters when they complete their hunter report and supplemental report to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). As a most recent example, researchers used WDFW reports to find elk with hoof disease often had abnormal antlers. Follow-up study showed elk with hoof disease had twice of odds of having asymmetrical antlers.

Hunters also help reduce the spread of hoof disease by harvesting an infected animal. If they do so, they can take part in WDFW’s incentive program. Hunters also need to follow guidelines from state wildlife agencies about the proper disposal of hooves and carcasses.

“With cooler weather and hunting seasons on the way, there is more opportunity for people to observe elk. This is an important time of the year for surveillance for limping elk and elk with abnormal hooves. We hope you’ll do your part by contributing your observations,” added Wild.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation supports research at the lab and supplied $100,000 for the facility’s construction in 2019.

(Photo credit: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)