UPDATE: Iowa DNR and Department of Ag speak about elk - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

UPDATE: Iowa DNR and Department of Ag speak about elk

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DES MOINES (KWWL) -- It's been a controversial story from the start; elk sightings in northeast Iowa have led to fear they might spread a disease.

Each year, hunting and agriculture bring in more than $10 billion to the state of Iowa. It's a protected and important part of the Iowa economy.

"Deer and elk that come into our state have to be from herds that have participated in a chronic wasting disease program for at least 5 years and have done and completed testing," State Veterinarian Dr. David Schmitt said.

After 5 elk were found in Allamakee County, officials determined they were not a part of the CWD program and as a result, cause a threat to wildlife and livestock in Iowa.

"This isn't great for us either but it's a necessity," DNR's Chief of Wildlife Dale Garner said.

Garner says all states bordering Iowa have confirmed cases of CWD, both from wild deer or elk and captive deer or elk. Iowa remains clean and they are hoping to keep it that way.

"Preventative medicine is cheaper than dealing with a major disease and so putting a few animals down to protect the mass is what we're trying to do," Garner said.

Add to that, budget cuts, low staff and a lack of resources and both organizations are trying to prevent a more expensive situation, should the disease spread.

"It's not that we don't like the elk, the thinking is that we have no idea where these elk came from," Garner said.

As for alternative testing, the Department of Agriculture says research has been done at USDA in Ames and at Colorado:

"But the best sample to collect is the brain stem of the animal. There is no live test to collect the brain specimen of the animal," Dr. Schmitt said.

Which means the cheapest, most effective and guaranteed way to keep CWD out of Iowa is to get rid of any elk from unknown places.

If you're interested in speaking with DNR and agriculture officials. They are holding a public meeting on March 1st, in Waukon. They will discuss CWD and other threats these elk have to two of Iowa's biggest economic industries.

Online Reporter: Lauren Squires

Follow Lauren on Twitter.

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