The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation is helping in the fight against a crippling disease affecting elk in three Northwest states.

The hunting and conservation group based in Missoula, Mont., is donating $100,000 to Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine to assist with the construction of its elk hoof disease research center at Pullman. The $1.2 million building with 10 isolation pens, a handling facility and two 1.5-acre holding pastures is under construction and scheduled to be completed in 2020.

The center is expected to be a key tool in the fight against the disease that has steadily moved east after being found in elk herds in southwestern Washington in the early 2000s. It is now present across northern Oregon and has moved as far east as the Blue Mountains in Washington. One case was also detected in Idaho, when a hunter killed an elk near White Bird with misshapen hooves last fall.

Known officially as treponeme-associated hoof disease, the mysterious ailment causes lesions on the hooves of elk that can progress to abnormal growths. It is not always fatal, but does impair afflicted elk, making it harder from them to move, find food and escape predators.

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

Once it is finished, the center will house a captive herd of elk and give researchers like Margaret Wild the ability to study elk with the disease.

“I am eager to get started with research on captive elk that will be housed in the facility,” said 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.”

In 2017, the Washington Legislature tapped the university to lead efforts to find the cause of the disease and the best way to halt its spread. Legislators allocated $3 million for the project over a two-year period.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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