ElkTracks: Winter 2024

A desaturated photo of a bull elk with several cow elk. The "ElkTracks" icon is over the photo.

Early every year, we prepare a report to the Washington State Legislature to share information about progress the Washington State University program has made on elk hoof disease research and outreach in the previous calendar year. This is an important document because the people of Washington, through the State Legislature, provide the majority of funding for our work. The 2023 Report to the Legislature is now available. I encourage you to flip through the report, or give it a good read, to see what we’ve accomplished, find out where the research is going, and meet the research team.

One of the studies included in the Report to the Legislature was authored by a team led by PhD student Steven Winter. The article describes the distribution of elk hoof disease in Washington and was published in December 2023 in the journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases.

Steven compiled and analyzed data collected through community science programs initiated and maintained by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and compared results with confirmed cases of treponeme-associated hoof disease (TAHD) that were diagnosed in the laboratory.

Findings confirmed the value of information collected by the public, that is community science, in monitoring distribution and apparent prevalence of TAHD. Public observations of limping elk entered into the WDFW online reporting tool and hunter reporting of abnormal hooves on the WDFW mandatory hunter reports provided early indications that TAHD was present in an area generally before samples were collected and the disease confirmed in the laboratory.

While these public reports were not confirmed as TAHD, they guided where to collect hooves for diagnostic testing and provide a timeline for when the disease may have arrived in a new area. Information provided by hunters in mandatory reports to WDFW are particularly useful because they also allow for an estimate of disease prevalence in GMUs and ability to monitor trends over time.

Steven’s article is full of maps and figures that you may find interesting. Keep in mind that the maps we create are only as good as the data we have. Particularly if you see gaps in the maps where you think TAHD occurs, you can help by providing information. Report observations of limping elk or elk with abnormal hooves on the WDFW online reporting tool. Hunters can help by collecting hooves from elk harvested in GMUs where TAHD has not been confirmed and submitting them for diagnostic testing. And finally, if you hunt elk, please complete your WDFW hunter report to provide value information for monitoring TAHD and contributing to research.

Margaret A. Wild, DVM, PhD
Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology