CWD game meat from USA and Canada: lack of import controls
1,500 elk destroyed in hopes of eradicating CWD infection
Hunt farms voted out of Montana
Game farm rules argued pro and con in Montana
Big game, big business
Montana hunters blast game farms
Colorado wildlife agency: CWD problems are political#kkk">
Montana game farm ballot initiative
Biologists say hunters should beware of CWD brain disease
Mad Deer and Elk -- Any Relevence to Oregon Hunters?
Index to CWD articles on this site
Updated 5 Dec 00 reverse chronological order
20 Nov 00: US staggering under CWD epidemic in deer and elk 01 Sep 00: Proof of risk of CWD to humans, cattle and sheep 20 Oct 00: CWD draft federal regs: input wanted 27 Aug 00: CWD transmission to cattle 12 Aug 00: CWD Canada: disease may wipe out elk industry 15 Jul 00: Philipsburg, Montana game farm -- 9 of 81 elk confirmed CWD 15 Jul 00: CWD threatens Wisconsin's elk and ultimately people 15 Jul 00: How CWD spreads from Colorado 13 Jul 00: Montana to ban new game farms 23 May 00: CWD transmits to human 20 May 00: Montana moves to eliminate game farm slaughter 08 May 00: CWD: deer-to-human transmission data released 26 Apr 00: Saskatchewan CWD elk death sparks herd quarantine 07 Mar 00: CWD deer, elk not wasting Utah hunters 27 Jan 00: Search for CWD extends to Missouri, Oklahoma 24 Jan 00: CWD slaughter in Montana 21 Jan 00: Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife 11 Jan 00: Montana CWD: 3 of 80 elk on game farm infected 27 Dec 99: Prion researcher won't eat CWD venison, CDC would 13 Dec 99: American trafficking in wild elk 10 Dec 99: 81 CWD elk in dumpsters awaiting decision 06 Dec 99: Elk game farm shut down 01 Dec 99: CWD research update 05 Nov 99: Montana elk confirmed with CWD 27 Oct 99: Mad Deer Disease: can venison kill you? 22 Oct 99: Maine deer examined for CWD 01 Oct 99: Oral transmission and early lymphoid tropism of CWD 01 Oct 99: CWD: not attributable to 129L allele in elk 01 Oct 99: CWD: oral transmission to fawns 16 Aug 99: 4 new CWD articles; bighorn prion sequence 04 Aug 99: States try to halt spread of chronic wasting disease 10 Jul 99: Crow Indians plan slaughter of migratory elk 28 Jun 99: Elk CWD: Montana named as traceback state 25 May 99: Deer hunter, 27 dies of "sporadic CJD" 18 May 99: CWD trophies -- a worry for taxidermists? 15 May 99: CWD in Oregon: worried hunters 23 Apr 99: Under-diagnosis of CWD in elk: 10/17 infected 27 Mar 99: Hunter Doug McEwen, 29, dies 05 Mar 99: Another young deer hunter down 02 Feb 99: Dermal prions: enough to make your skin crawl 28 Jan 99..CWD special: indexes all earlier articles. 25 Nov 98: Host range of CWD is altered on passage in ferrets 01 Aug 98: CWD in Arkansas?: no IHC testing 07 Jul 98: CWD in Oklahoma 23 Mar 98: CWD: America's mad cow? 10 Mar 98: Colorado's dementia experiment 10 Nov 97: Elk game farms - the disgusting reality 01 Aug 97: Mule Deer with CWD: 3 new prion alleles reported 05 Oct 96: Chronic wasting disease shows TSEs loose in US
30 Nov 2000: House of Lords Column WA164Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether any parts or materials derived from parts of deer species (Odocoileus spp), or elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni) may be imported from North America; and, if so, what safeguards are in place to prevent the introduction of chronic wasting disease into the United Kingdom.[HL4789]
The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman):
EU regulations permit the import into the UK, from the USA and Canada, of wild and farmed game meat from animals of the Odocoileus hemionus species and Cervus elaphus nelsoni for human consumption. Consignments must come from EU approved establishments and must be accompanied by official veterinary health certification, which does not, however, specifically refer to freedom from chronic wasting disease (CWD).
The importation from the USA or Canada of game meat products derived from these animals is not permitted under Community law as there are no EU approved processing establishments. Imports of parts of the animals or materials derived from them (ie. game trophies and hides and skins) may be imported under EU regulations but not for human consumption.
We have been told by the authorities in Canada that elk and mule deer meat are not exported or used in the food chain. There is a depopulation programme in place in respect those herds affected by CWD. There have been no recorded cases of CWD in red deer in Canada.
CWD is present in the USA but is confined to a small geographical region. Six establishments in the USA are approved to export game meat to the UK and they are significantly distant from this region.
This is appalling that the Minister does not realize that game farms routinely trade animals at a Missouri auction (no source tracing possible) or import directly from out-of-state source herds for which live-testing was impossible, that a half dozen scattered states have reported CWD affected animals, and that even more have trace-back animals from affected facilities in Colorado and Wyoming. How does a non-existent geographical barrier provide reassurance from CWD? Red deer and Rocky Mountain elk are Tweedledee and Tweedledum as distinct species and cannot have a species barrier.
This has come up over and over during the BSE epidemic, the total complacency, ignorance, inability to assemble rudimentary fact sheets, and acceptance of garbage that any competent consultant could have corrected in a New York minute. How can the British be 16 years into a disease, with an agriculture ministery having tens of thousands of employees, but not even assembled a reliable fact sheet on TSEs? No wonder the policies are so lame, authorities don't operate from a factual foundation.
The thinking is, facts don't matter, as a matter of long-standing policy, we are just going to issue a standardized consumer reassurance regardless, so why bother to inform ourselves.
Is the much-vaunted Food Safety Agency any better informed on CWD (and doing anything to monitor these imports)? What becomes of game farm offal for example?
It turns out that 5 of the licensed cervid exporters are in Texas and one is in North Dakota. Neither state is reporting any CWD at this time:
20 Jan 00 North Dakota Department of Agriculture AgvocateBISMARCK No sign of chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found in North Dakota domestic elk and deer herds after nearly two years of surveillance.
"More than 100 negative samples give us a high degree of confidence that CWD is not in North Dakota," said Dr. Larry Schuler, the state veterinarian. "We will never be able to say with absolute certainty that CWD is not here, but North Dakota has been doing surveillance as long as any state has without finding the disease."
CWD is a progressive, fatal disease of the nervous system of cervids (elk and deer). It is known as a transmissible spongioform encephalopathy, or TSE. Although the exact cause of CWD is unknown, it is believed to be caused by a prion, a disease agent smaller than a virus. No treatment or vaccine is currently available for the disease, and no live animal test is available for the disease. It can only be diagnosed in the laboratory on specific sections of brain.
Schuler said North Dakota elk producers took a proactive approach by asking for a mandatory surveillance program after a positive diagnosis of CWD on a privately owned elk farm in South Dakota in December 1997. Since February 1998, North Dakota deer and elk owners have submitted 117 samples, all proving negative for CWD. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has also submitted samples from deer and elk that displayed signs that could be consistent with CWD.
North Dakota producers own approximately 2,500 elk and deer. CWD has been diagnosed in captive elk herds in South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado, Montana, and Saskatchewan. The disease was originally diagnosed in wild, free ranging elk and deer in northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming in the late 1960s, but had never been reported in captive elk or deer until the 1997 case in South Dakota.
"Our goal is twofold," Schuler said. "First, we want to know that the disease is not here; and second, we want to be able to take steps to keep it out of the state. The North Dakota State Board of Animal Health took precautionary measures to keep CWD out of the state when it enacted rules to prevent the importation of elk or deer that may have been exposed to the disease."
ND Department of Agriculture Press Release January 23, 1998State Veterinarian Dr. Larry Schuler said the surveillance program will apply to all domestic elk and deer owners, and will go into effect in February. It has never been detected in either wild or domestic animals in North Dakota. Schuler said the surveillance program will require that any death among domestic elk or deer must be reported immediately to the owner's veterinarian. The veterinarian will arrange for removal of the animal's brain which will be sent first to North Dakota State University and then to an approved lab for diagnostic analysis. If the laboratory confirms a positive diagnosis for CWD, further action, including possible quarantines, will be determined by the North Dakota Board of Animal Health.
November 30, 2000 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) Michelle LangREGINA -- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has, according to this story, begun destroying 1,500 ranched elk around Saskatchewan, fearing they were exposed to a rare and fatal disease of the nervous system. The story says that the agency will destroy six herds of elk during the next three weeks, before the end of the worst year on record for Chronic Wasting Disease in Saskatchewan, with 14 animals confirmed infected throughout the province.
The story adds that before 2000, there were only two reported cases of the disease here, Saskatchewan being the second place in the world to report Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
Dr. George Luterbach, the CFIA chief veterinarian of animal health for Western Canada, was cited as saying the six herds must be destroyed because there is no way to test live animals for the disease and he hopes the decision will eradicate the disease in Saskatchewan, adding, We realize this is a very conservative approach. Most of these animals are clinically normal.''
The affected herds are located near Prince Albert, Lloydminster, Swift Current, Melfort and Yorkton. The story explains that with about 28,000 farmed elk in the province, the disease may impact this emerging industry. Brenda McLash, executive director of the Saskatchewan Elk Breeder's Association, was cited as saying her organization lobbied to have the elk eliminated so the industry can move on and she hopes the worst is behind elk breeders and points out that most species of animals have a risk of disease, adding, "As long as you're in four-legged animals, there will be a disease.''
The financial impact on the ranchers who have lost their herds will be lessened by compensation from the CFIA. The agency will reimburse producers up to $4,000 per animal plus funds for disposal costs.
With the large number of infected farm elk this year, Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) has set up a new monitoring program for wild elk and deer to ensure the disease isn't transferring out of captive elk. The province is asking hunters who take elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer to turn over the animal heads for testing.
9 Nov 00 Western Producer By Ed White, Saskatoon newsroomMore than 200 Saskatchewan farmed elk will be destroyed as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency strives to wipe out chronic wasting disease. The 1,150 elk on the five farms that have experienced the disease will remain locked down while the CFIA decides what to do with them.
The Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association praises the action. "We've been fighting for a policy and we've got it," said elk breeder's association executive director Brenda McLash. "The hurricane's gone by and the dust is now settling."
The Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, which represents hunters, sees it differently. The organization thinks the CFIA action proves there is a major problem and that game farms are endangering Saskatchewan's native wild elk.
"It's going to be very difficult to control it," said Lorne Scott, the federation's executive director. "Here we are, 10 years after the U.S. border was closed to elk imports and we're still having animals diagnosed."
The 240 animals that will be killed came from the five infected farms but were sold to other farmers. None has developed the disease, which is akin to scrapie in sheep and to mad cow disease.
The disease first appeared in Saskatchewan in 1996 on a farm near Sedley, in an elk imported from the United States. A second case appeared in 1998 on a Swift Current farm. In February 2000, another animal developed the disease at that farm.
Since then, four more Saskatchewan farms have discovered the disease among their animals. Those five herds are now under quarantine. The elk can't be sold or moved to any other herd. All of the infected animals have either been in direct contact with an infected American animal, or a Canadian animal infected by an American import.
The 240 to be killed are among the 650 animals that were sold out of those herds and then put under quarantine.
The CFIA has decided to exterminate any animal that has been in direct contact with an infected animal within the last three years. Any animal that has had direct contact but has not become infected in more than three years will be allowed to live. However, animals that have been in contact with a diseased animal more than three years ago, but less than five years ago, must be quarantined. After five years without signs of the disease, an animal will be allowed out of quarantine.
George Luterbach, the CFIA vet in charge of the control program, said most scientists believe chronic wasting disease appears 16 to 36 months after an animal is infected. If it hasn't shown up after three years, it probably never will. But Luterbach admitted there is no sure way to tell. "There are some areas that are not well understood at this time, so the policy was based on the best assumptions," said Luterbach.
Saskatchewan elk farmers have pushed the CFIA to take decisive action since the disease was found. They often grumbled the agency was not acting strongly enough to snuff out the disease. McLash said elk farmers will co-operate with the CFIA, now that the agency has come out with a "We've asked for this, so we're working it through."
Scott said his organization thinks every animal in every herd that has produced an infected animal should be destroyed. He said the CFIA should consider banning elk production on land that has held infected animals, since there is some evidence the disease can stay in the soil. The land should also be fenced so wild elk do not become infected from contaminated soil, he said. "It's the unknown that we worry about," said Scott.
November 2, 2000 The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) By: Darren BernhardtLorne Scott, executive director with the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation (SWF), was cited as saying his group fears ``dire consequences'' for the tourism industry after 650 domestic Saskatchewan elk were quarantined after chronic wasting disease forced the recent destruction of 65 of the animals, adding, ``We're very, very concerned about it because this is a very deadly disease which is still relatively unknown. The whole sport hunting industry could be severely impacted, costing hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention the general health of the wildlife populations as well. It could have dire consequences.''
Dr. George Luterbach, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's chief veterinarian of animal health for Western Canada, was quoted as saying, "It is an irreversible disease with no known treatment," and that Saskatchewan is the only place in the country with current reported cases of the disease, and the first to ever identify it in farmed elk.
Luterbach was further quoted as saying, `"`We are taking a very precautionary approach here. No exposed animals will be considered for human food.'' Luterbach added the disease is believed to have been inadvertently imported into Canada through a shipment of elk from the United States. The only other cases of the disease being reported in the world have come from a small area in northern Colorado and southern Wyoming.
Many of those animals ended up at a source farm in Lloydminster, and were then sold to individual farmers throughout the province. The first case reported in Saskatchewan came in 1996, and the entire herd of 34 was destroyed. The second case appeared on a Swift Current farm in 1998. Five of the animals were destroyed initially, before the entire herd of 65 was destroyed.
Luterbach was quoted as saying, ``Everything went well for a couple of years until this spring when the province's third finding appeared.'' The source farm was immediately placed under quarantine and in May a CWD case was confirmed. Since then, seven more cases have been found on that farm. They were discovered after a provincewide investigation of 75 herds in which the disease was found on three more farms in Melfort, Yorkton and Lloydminster. The 650 quarantined animals are from those farms.
Luterbach says sales from known infected farms have been halted and a policy has been adopted to categorize the infected farms as either highly contaminated or minimally contaminated. For the former, all of the stock will be ordered destroyed.
Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management (SERM) has also placed advertisements in newspapers around the province asking hunters to turn in their deer heads for an examination of the brain tissue. The deer hunting season starts later this month.
Brenda McLash, executive director of the Saskatchewan Elk Breeder's Association, was quoted as saying the situation is getting better ``because of the action the industry has been taking'' to identify those elk suspected to be infected. By doing that we're moving ahead with action to rid this disease. If we just quarantined the animals and didn't do anything further we'd be going no place and the farm would be going nowhere.''
August 24, 2000 By Ed White Western ProducerThe animals in four Saskatchewan elk herds infected with chronic wasting disease should be destroyed immediately, say elk producers across Canada. Federal officials should not take chances with CWD, a contagious disease that until now has been confined to a few animals from the United States.
"We feel that all the animals that are a risk must be exterminated," said Ian Thorleifson, the executive director of the Canadian Venison Council. "Our goal is complete eradication."
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has quarantined four Saskatchewan herds and banned the movement of animals that originated in those herds. One animal in each of the four herds has died from CWD, a spongiform encephalopathy similar to scrapie in sheep. The CFIA has destroyed all 64 animals in one of the herds in order to gather tissue samples. It will also kill 35 animals in a second infected herd.
The agency does not plan to exterminate all of the animals from the infected herds but neither has it decided against total eradication, said CFIA veterinarian George Luterbach. "This is an interim policy to get us to the fall," said Luterbach.
Little is known about CWD. Scientists are not certain how it spreads, incubates and acts once it has developed within an animal. CWD originated in a forested area along the Colorado-Wyoming border [an unforested 40 acre fenced facility called the Colorado Dept of Wildlife Foothills Research Station -- webmaster]. It has been found in wild animals for 30 years and may have existed for much longer. The disease expanded northward after it began appearing in commercial elk herds.
Producers in South Dakota and Montana have been fighting CWD for years. The Saskatchewan border has been closed to U.S. imports for about a decade, but some animals were imported from South Dakota before 1990. Federal veterinarians think one of these animals brought the disease into Saskatchewan.
There were two cases of CWD diagnosed in Saskatchewan elk herds before this year. In 1996, an entire herd was destroyed after one of its elk contracted the disease. In 1998 another animal was infected but this time, authorities decided not to kill the entire herd. Instead, the infected animal, its mother and its siblings were destroyed.
Now CWD has re-emerged in the same group of animals. What's more, all four of the recently diagnosed elk have ties to that herd. "All cases to date have a link with each other," said Luterbach. All go back to an original infection from an imported American elk.
Thorleifson said producers are concerned by the spread of the disease into four herds, but they believe it can be controlled. "It's obvious the disease has spread, but we're still only talking four animals," he said. If the CFIA acts quickly and destroys all the animals that could have been infected, the disease could be eliminated in Canada.
"We see it as a foreign disease," said Thorleifson.
Edwin Harms, the president of the Manitoba Elk Growers Association, agrees with Thorleifson's call for a decisive response. "They need to do some fairly drastic things," said Harms. "If they have to depopulate a bunch of herds, they should do it. If the problem is big and bad, let's get on it and clean it up."
Manitoba producers have been trying to open their border to outside imports from Saskatchewan and Alberta. Harms said his producers need access to outside animals, but want to eliminate the risk of contracting CWD.
Kelly Stevenson, an executive member of the Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association, said he believes the CFIA can control and eliminate the disease. He'd like to see the situation resolved quickly so that uncertainty can be alleviated. "It's all very hush-hush. It's all rumors," said Stevenson. "I'm hoping the CFIA can follow their past patterns at disease control, which they're the best at in the world, and jump on this before it gets away."
Control efforts have been hampered because there is no way to test live animals for CWD. The only way to discover it is to examine the brains of dead animals. Scientists are trying to develop a live animal test, something that would make it easier to track the disease and control it.
July 27, 2000 By Ed White Saskatoon newsroom Western ProducerFour Saskatchewan elk herds are under quarantine because of Chronic Wasting Disease. One of the herds, which had one animal develop CWD in 1998 and another sicken in March 2000, will be exterminated and all the animals studied so scientists can attempt to unravel the secret of how the disease operates within a herd.
The fate of the three other herds has not been determined. CWD is not a reportable disease and there is no standing policy for dealing with it. The four new cases all came to light since March. Veterinarians from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are not sure if the cases are linked. "There's a lot that's not known about this disease," said Brian Peart, a veterinarian with the agency.
All 64 animals in the twice-struck herd will be exterminated and tested. After the first animal was found sick with CWD in 1998, it was killed but the rest of its herd was left alive. The sick animal had just arrived from another herd. The CFIA tracked down all of its close relatives in another herd and destroyed them. None of these animals tested positive for CWD. The locations of the herds were not disclosed.
The agency, working with the Canadian Venison Council, hopes to use the data from this herd to develop a program to deal with future outbreaks of CWD, which is now treated on a case-by-case basis.... A couple of isolated incidents have occurred in Saskatchewan, but there have been no widespread problems.
CWD is the elk equivalent of mad cow disease. It destroys the animal's brain, often producing bizarre, repetitive behaviors before death. Though the disease spreads slowly and does not cause major losses, its similarity to mad cow disease has made the elk industry wary and eager to prevent it from becoming established in Canada.
The agency plans to make CWD a reportable disease, but is still developing its program. The analysis of the animals in the exterminated herd will help design control measures. "We're going to take specimens of everything we can to look at how the different tests react," said Peart.
All four recent animals were identified by their owners, who contacted the agency. The owner of the herd that will be exterminated has not been allowed to trade animals since 1998, but has helped the agency with its work. "The owner has been extremely co-operative with us," said Peart.
April 20, 2000 By Karen Briere Regina bureau Western ProducerAn elk found dead on a Swift Current, Sask., ranch this winter was infected with chronic wasting disease. George Luterbach, animal health program manager at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Winnipeg, said the cause of death was confirmed March 10. The remaining 64 elk in the herd have been under quarantine since the death. None is displaying symptoms of the disease, he said.
Chronic wasting disease is a progressive fatal disease of the nervous system of cervids, including elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. It is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, as are scrapie in sheep, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. The cause is unknown and there is no live animal test, treatment or vaccine.
Luterbach said the animal died at the same ranch where another elk died in 1998. At that time, several others identified as high-risk were destroyed. He said the most recent death was not a relative of the first infected animal, but was a herd mate [ie, reflecte lateral transmission -- webmaster]
"It does raise a possibility that there had been disease transmission from the particular farm," he said. "There is no known risk to humans [risk later proven -- webmaster] , although there are other diseases that are, and from that perspective we are taking a cautious approach." No animals have been sold from the farm, but animals have been purchased and brought there. "That of course is part of the investigation," Luterbach said.
This brings to three the number of cases found in Saskatchewan elk herds. The first animal died near Sedley in 1996 and the entire herd was destroyed. The animal had been imported from the United States and lived in Canada for seven years. In the 1998 case, the mother of the infected animal had come from the U.S.
Lloyd Spencer, past-president of the Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association, said elk producers are confident that the inspection agency is properly handling the situation. He said producers are concerned, but noted that three cases out of more than 20,000 elk in the province is an extremely low number.
"Canada probably has a reputation of being the most health conscious and reliable supplier of food in the world," Spencer said. "There is no place where we take more drastic measures to eradicate disease. It will be dealt with appropriately."
June 10, 1999 By Ed White Saskatoon newsroom Western ProducerThe Canadian border is now open to American elk imports. But producers aren't scared of a flood of disease pouring north, according to the president of the Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association. They are putting their trust in federal regulators. "They're very, very cautious," said Lloyd Spencer about the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which set the rules governing elk imported from the United States.
The U.S. border has been closed for years because of a host of disease worries. Some American elk populations have brucellosis, tuberculosis, parasitic worms and chronic wasting disease -- the cervid equivalent of scrapie in sheep. Under the CFIA protocol, American animals can now be imported if they go through a long list of tests, are quarantined, and do not come from certain areas.
No elk can be imported from Colorado or Wyoming, the two states where chronic wasting disease exists in wild deer and elk herds. All imported animals have to be born on farms. The herds they are born into must be proven free of chronic wasting disease [even though there is no live-animal test -- webmaster]. No animal in the herds can be derived from Colorado or Wyoming elk.
The herd an animal comes from must be at least 40 kilometres from wild herds. The herd must be proven free of many diseases, including brucellosis and tuberculosis. Once approved to cross the border, the Canadian importer must hold them in quarantine in Canada for 60 days. After that, if they are still free of all diseases, they are allowed into the domestic herd.
Elk importers must satisfy provincial regulations as well. In Saskatchewan that means that no elk can be imported from areas that have the P. tenuis and E. cervi parasitic worms that afflict elk in many parts of North America, including Manitoba and Ontario.
Presently Saskatchewan and Alberta refuse to allow each other's elk into their province. Alberta has closed the border to Saskatchewan for years, arguing there is a chance Saskatchewan elk could carry P. tenuis into their domestic herd.
Saskatchewan was open to Alberta elk imports until last year, when the border was shut so officials could investigate the disease threat Alberta elk could pose for Saskatchewan herds. The two provinces are now negotiating an open border. Until then, Saskatchewan producers find it easier to import U.S. animals than Alberta elk.
June 17, 1999 By Ed White Western ProducerPrairie deer and elk producers have been caught on the horns of a dilemma that sets safety against free trade. How can open borders to trade exist while also protecting animals on the Canadian Prairies from diseases suffered by elk elsewhere? The dilemma has begun to resolve itself.
And while some prairie producers feel skewered by recent provincial and federal decisions to open borders, most think the new rules balance the principles of protection and openness. "We always believe that if the science says it is safe, we should have free trade," said Lloyd Spencer, the president of the Saskatchewan Elk Breeders Association. "We believe in free trade."
On May 12 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency implemented new rules that make it possible for U.S. elk and white-tailed deer to be imported into Canada. As long as animals are identified, come from clean herds and go through a series of tests, they can cross the border. They still have to meet provincial regulations before being allowed onto a farm.
A few weeks ago the Saskatchewan environment department allowed a syndicate of producers to import white-tailed deer fawns from Ontario -- a province whose deer had been banned from entering because of fears of parasitic worms that are endemic there.
In both cases officials said they opened the borders because they were able to develop a testing regime that would ensure imported animals weren't infected with dangerous organisms. Once they were able to do that, they didn't have the right to prevent imports, officials said, because of various trade agreements Ottawa has signed.
Prairie producers have prided themselves on being players in an international market, and they know the more the industry grows, the more global it will become. But they also believe in keeping herds free of common diseases, parasitic worms and the chronic wasting disease that prowls south of the border.
To get producers on side, American and Canadian officials, as well as industry organizations, had to not only build health testing protocols that would work, but also convince producers that they would work. Building this understanding and acceptance appears to have opened long-closed borders with little producer upset. "I think most producers look at it as an opportunity," said Ian Thorleifson, executive director of the Canadian Venison Council and the Alberta Elk Farmers Association.
The border was closed in 1990 because of outbreaks of tuberculosis in some American herds. Since then, Canadian and American officials have tried to work out a system that could test for all the dangers, including brucellosis, tuberculosis, bluetongue and chronic wasting disease.
It hasn't been easy. Chronic wasting disease can easily be misdiagnosed and the only foolproof test is to examine the brain of a dead animal. Other diseases, such as tuberculosis, can hide in a herd and aren't always exposed in tests. To work around this, the United States Department of Agriculture and various states set up rigorous testing systems. The CFIA felt confident enough about the tests for brucellosis and tuberculosis that the border ban was almost dropped in January 1998.
But at the same time an elk on a southern Saskatchewan elk ranch was discovered with chronic wasting disease, the cervid equivalent of scrapie and mad cow disease. It was the offspring of an elk from South Dakota, an area close to the known infected area of Colorado and Wyoming. The CFIA kept the border closed while American officials came up with a control program. South Dakota eradicated its one known infected herd and clamped controls on nearby animals [though further herds became infected -- webmaster]. Colorado took similar steps to make sure the game farm population wasn't infected [though traceback herds emerged -- webmaster].
After this, the CFIA revised its proposed regulations and prepared to open the border. Colorado elk are still banned, but could be allowed in within a few months. "They've done a good job," said Brian Jamieson, a veterinary official with the CFIA.
Throughout the development of disease controls in the U.S., prairie producers were kept informed by the CFIA and by lower-level contacts with American producers and industry organizations. "The producers, we trust them," said Thorleifson. "They're our friends and business associates."
So when the CFIA decided to open the border to U.S. elk, few producers were shocked. The industry association was on side. "I think once producers understand what the Americans have accomplished in terms of health maintenance ... then I think they won't have any worries at all," said Thorleifson.
When the Saskatchewan government opened the border to Ontario deer imports, there was more uproar. But while the producer association objected to the specific health control regime the environment department was imposing, it did not reject the idea of having open borders.
Thorleifson said he thinks scientists have now developed enough tests that health worries will diminish, and the desire for free trade will become the main issue for prairie producers. That will not only open the Canada-U.S. border, but also open the apparently thicker walls the prairie provinces have erected against each other.
July 6, 2000 By Ed White Western ProducerElk producers in Manitoba are feeling optimistic about their chances of eventually easing border restrictions that have kept the provincial herd isolated. Manitoba government regulations prevent producers from importing animals from any other jurisdiction unless the Canadian Food Inspection Agency certifies the elk are free of chronic wasting disease. The agency does not provide this certification so that leaves the border shut.
But Edwin Harms, president of the Manitoba Elk Growers Association, said some of the logjam broke at a meeting with provincial agriculture officials on June 29. "It's looking really good right now," said Harms, who was at the meeting. "It looks like we've agreed on some issues and they're going to go ahead and see if they can get some regulations changed."
Harms said outside animals could be allowed into Manitoba as soon as this fall, if new protocols are put in place.
Bill Steeds, the head of Manitoba Agriculture's diversified livestock section, was more cautious. He said the government has no objection in principle to allowing in foreign elk. But it will not allow any in if there is a chance of importing chronic wasting disease with them.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to make sure that chronic wasting disease doesn't end up in Manitoba," said Steeds. "We don't have it, and we're going to do whatever it takes to not get it."
Steeds said veterinary officials are trying to set up a system that would ensure prospective imports to Manitoba are free of the disease. Careful record keeping on animals' herds of origin would be essential to satisfy officials that there is no risk. The disease is endemic to a small part of Colorado and Wyoming and has been found in Montana and North Dakota. Individual animals in two Saskatchewan herds have also developed the disease, which is the cervid equivalent of mad cow disease.
November 16, 2000 By Ed White Western ProducerMontana voters have banned hunt farming in the state and have sentenced the rest of the game farm industry to a slow death. On election day in the United States Nov. 7, 54 percent of Montana voters voted in favor of referendum proposition 143.
All hunt farms will now be shut down. Existing game farms will be allowed to continue, but no new ones will be allowed. Owners of game farms will not be allowed to sell their operations. If they decide to quit farming, the farms will have to be shut down.
It's a major victory for groups such as the Montana Wildlife Federation, which led the campaign to jettison the industry. "We're very pleased," said Craig Sharp, the federation's executive director. "A large contingent of Montanans don't like canned hunting."
Critics have accused hunt farms of being abominations of hunting culture. They claim that game farms have brought dangerous diseases to the state, such as chronic wasting disease, which imperils Montana's native elk and deer populations.
Sharp said his organization expects game farmers and hunt farmers to launch a lawsuit to overturn the referendum. Game farmers have already attempted to get around the referendum's intent by incorporating their farms, Sharpe said. If incorporated, game farms could list a number of owners, giving operations the chance to survive if any one owner moved on.
While game farms will linger in the state for years [currently 92 alternative livestock producers -- webmaster], Sharp said the victorious referendum has begun a slow process of driving domesticated, farmed deer and elk out of the state. The Montana Alternative Livestock Producers could not be reached for comment.
December 12, 1999 By ERIN P. BILLINGS, Gazette State BureauThere seems to be little consensus about how and to what degree Montana should regulate game farms, with some arguing the state's restrictions are too lax and others saying the rules are reasonable and protective.
Although elk and deer farming isn't unique to Montana, it isn't a practice allowed everywhere, and in fact many nearby states forbid the practice altogether. In Montana, there has never been a prohibition on game farm operations.
Among Western states, Montana joins Colorado and Idaho in allowing game farms or alternative livestock facilities. Arizona, California, Washington and Wyoming, however, do not permit game farming.
In other Western states such as Alaska, New Mexico and Oregon, fish and wildlife agencies entirely oversee game farms, while livestock and agriculture agencies oversee the operations in Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Utah.
Nationwide, there are about 3,000 game farm operators with 150,000 animals. Montana is home to 4,200 game farm animals, the majority of which are elk. Only 200 are deer. There are 101 game farms covering 20,000 acres licensed in the state.
Fencing: After Jan. 15, 1999, state rules require a game-proof fence of up to 8 feet in height using high tensile, woven wire game fence with vertical wires every 6 inches and 17 or more strands of horizontal wires. Wooden line posts must be a minimum of 4 inches in diameter, spaced no more than 24 feet apart. Fences must be designed and maintained in a game-proof condition at all times.
Escape: State or law enforcement may seize, capture or kill escaped game farm animals. License holders must report any escapes or ingress of wildlife into game farm facilities and must make a reasonable effort to recapture or kill any escaped animals.
Possession of prohibited animals: Game farm operators may not own, breed, buy or sell animals prohibited by the state Livestock Department. Prohibited species must, within 10 days of notice from the state, be transported out of the state or be killed by the owner. A person may possess a prohibited animal if it was obtained before May 15, 1992, and if it is neutered and contained.
Elk-red deer hybridization: Game farm operators are to test all elk for elk-red deer hybridization by Jan. 1 of the year after the year of the animal birth or when the animal is sold or transported from the game farm, whichever comes first.
Game farms that verify to the department that all game farm elk have been hybrid tested before Jan. 1, 1999, may apply for a waiver of the off-spring testing.
Confiscation of animals: The state may seize or confiscate any unlawfully possessed game farm animal.
Surveillance: Game farm operators must have their herd inspected annually by the state. Operators also must report game farm animal deaths within one day of discovery, and tissues must be submitted to the state for chronic wasting disease testing.
Import: Any game farm animal imported to the state must be monitored for a minimum of 24 months before coming into the state. The state of origin must have the authority to quarantine herds exposed to chronic wasting disease.
Chronic wasting disease: Tests for chronic wasting disease must be conducted at a state-approved laboratory. The state veterinarian must approve new testing for the disease. If one animal is diagnosed with the disease in a herd, the entire herd must be inspected, and the entire herd shall be placed under quarantine for 36 months from the date of death of the last infected animals.
Since 1992, the state has recorded 39 animal escapes from Montana game farm operations. During the same period there were 22 cases in which native wildlife got into a game farm. Here's a look at the number of animals escaping from game farms vs. the number of wildlife getting into the farms from the outside.
1992: Six escapes of game farm animals compared with seven animals entering the pen.
1993: Six escapes compared with one animal getting in from the outside.
1994: Nine escapes compared with one animal getting in from the outside.
1995: Six escapes compared with two animals getting in.
1996: Four escapes compared with two animals getting in.
1997: Two escapes compared with two getting in.
1998: Four escapes compared with six getting in.
1999: Two escapes compared with two getting in from the outside.<
11/30/00 by HAL HERRING Missoula IndependentYou donıt have to travel far from Missoula to see the largest herd of captive elk in the country. Itıs right down Highway 93 south of Darby, on 1800 acres of hard-grazed steeps and gullies above Rye Creek, in the foothills of the Sapphire Mountains. The Big Velvet Ranch, owned by Len Wallace and his wife Barbie, has just under a thousand head of elk enclosed in eight-foot-high wire mesh fences. Like the many other game ranches that have sprung up around Montana, the Big Velvet produces breeding stock and hundreds of pounds of immature ³velvet² elk antler for the Asian medicine and aphrodisiac trade. And like a growing number of them, it also produces giant domestic elk bulls for clients who want a fast and trouble-free trophy to hang on the wall back home. A Big Velvet ad in the monthly magazine Safari Club International reads, ³The worldıs most successful elk hunt. No kill, no pay.²
Apparently, the number of people interested in shooting what game ranchers call ³alternative livestock² is growing every year. In 1999 alone, the Big Velvet provided trophies for 150 clients, at a starting price of $5500. The top prices, for the largest bulls, exceeded $20,000. Those numbers are just one sign of a fast-growing trend.
The game farm industry has expanded across the state by leaps and bounds over the past decade, driven by the drastic stagnation of the traditional ranch and farm economy, and by Montanaıs mystique as a home of big-game hunting, which gives operators like Wallace an edge in attracting customers to their captive shooting operations. Montana is not the only Western state where game ranching has boomedColorado has 150 operations holding over 8000 captive elkbut there is probably no other place where the practice of game ranching has raised so much vehement opposition as it has here.
Itıs very hard to argue with the enthusiasm and energy of Bob Spoklie, the president of Montana Alternative Livestock Producers (MALP), and a founding board member of the North American Elk Breederıs Association (NAEBA). He is a fit gentleman in his 60s who runs 300 head of elk on his property near Whitefish, selling breeding stock, velvet, and trophy bulls. He has a reputation for being a firebrand in support of his industry, plainspoken and aggressive, and it is readily apparent that after 16 years of raising elk, his enthusiasm for his work is stronger than ever.
³Why am I involved in this business? I call it the two Ps,² he says. ³Pleasure and profit. An elk is a clean and majestic animal, and wonderful to work with.² But Spoklie is foremost a rancher, he stresses, with a rancherıs concerns. ³My father homesteaded in eastern Montana in 1903,² Spoklie says, ³and we have been involved in ranching all our lives. I have four family members who derive a big part of their livelihood from elk right now, and without this industry, three of them would be out of state, looking for work.²
Although keeping elk captive can be expensivethe fencing alone runs up to $8000 per mileSpoklie says the cost is offset by the fact that elk eat only about a third as much forage as cattle. ³And right now, elk meat is running at about $4 a pound, compared to $1.26 for beef. It is all about diversifying so that farmers and ranchers can survive.²
While discussing elk ranching with Spoklie, itıs hard to imagine that his operation and the huge Big Velvet could be part of the same industry. But critics warn that the entire elk ranching industryfrom the smallest ranch to the largestthreatens both the wildlife and the traditional hunting opportunities that make Montana unique. They cite the potential transmission of disease from captive big game to the wild, the displacement of native wildlife by ³game-proof² fences, the dangerous resurgence of commercial markets for wildlife, and the perversion of hunting ethics involved in fenced trophy shoots. And with so many parties involvedfrom family ranchers to the state of Montanathe controversy over game farming is a debate with many sides.
No single issue has inspired so much opposition to the game ranching industry as the practice of captive trophy shooting, or ³canned hunting,² as it is called by critics. Certainly, no single issue better represents the enormous difference in philosophies between the game ranchers and the people who oppose them.
Jim Posewitz, of Helena, spent 32 years as a wildlife biologist for the state before retiring to start Orion: The Hunterıs Institute, an organization devoted to the preservation of ethical hunting traditions. For years he has been an outspoken critic of the game ranch industry, and says heıs appalled at the growth in the captive trophy shooting industry. ³It is killing,² he says, ³and nothing more.²
Posewitz says that the issue goes beyond the simple mockery of fair chase hunting. ³The worst thing that it does is to trivialize the value of these animals. A fenced shoot is just the sale of a fabricated image to people who have neither the skill or the inclination to obtain the real thing, and it is a threat, not just to real hunting but to our whole concept of wildlife conservation.²
Marty Boehm, who has raised elk on his small farm in the Flathead Valley for over 18 years, says he has listened carefully to the people who oppose his industry, but still does not understand their objections. ³How do we detract from fair chase hunting?² he asks. ³I know clients whose biggest need for wilderness is just to set foot in the state of Montana. If they are paying to take a trophy from a game ranch, then they are not out in the woods, competing with the people who like to hunt that way. I would say we are taking some of the pressure off.² Boehm does not have a shooting operation, but he sometimes sells bulls to those who do. ³A lot of people have set aside the elk as this noble beast that is somehow exempt from any kind of use, as livestock, or just about anything else. We donıt see it that way.²
Spoklie, too, doesnıt consider the captive shooting to be unethical and like Boehm, doesnıt understand why so many people call it a mockery of fair chase hunting. ³We usually sell the older bulls for trophies after theyıve peaked as velvet producers,² explains Bob Spoklie, ³and itıs just a humane way to harvest surplus animals. We should have the right to harvest our livestock and sell it to the highest bidder, like any other producer. As far as Iım concerned, we lost fair chase when we gave the Indians a horse and a rifle.²
No group has opposed the game ranch industry or captive shooting as doggedly as the Montana Wildlife Federation and its many affiliated sportsmenıs organizations, including Montanans Against the Commercialization of Wildlife (MACOW). Headed by Lolo resident and part-time hunting guide Gary Holmquist, MACOW is in the process of drafting a citizensı initiative to ban captive shooting, and another to halt the future proliferation of game ranches. Holmquist says that the goals of MACOW are simple.
³Ultimately, we want to get game ranching out of Montana,² he says. ³I realize there are property rights issues involved there, and we may have waited too late to get a ban. But I believe that we can get a ban on captive shooting, and thatıs a start.²
Although he says he has many environmental reasons to oppose the industry, Holmquist states that his primary objection, the one that drove him to start MACOW, is a philosophical and emotional one. ³Shooting captive elk represents the complete abandonment of the ethics of fair chase, it is disgusting, and it debases one of the most magnificent wild animals on earth.² In particular, Holmquist believes that the confinement of elk and deer is unnatural. ³Why canıt we just choose to let wildlife be wildlife? And let livestock be livestock? The game ranchers are always saying that these animals are just livestock, and they have the right to do with them whatever they want, but as soon as they get in the shooting market, they call them trophies, and sell them as wildlife. They want it both ways, whichever way suits them best, and what we are saying is, they canıt have it.²
For their part, elk ranchers say that, with prices for traditional agricultural products like wheat and cattle at all-time lows, ranchers are forced to exploit whatever opportunities are out there.
³People are desperate for anything that will let them keep their farms,² says Marty Boehm. ³With alternative livestock, I make my living on 50 acres, and I can tell you that there is nothing else legal that I could do on that ground that would allow me to survive.² When conservationists speak of another complaint they have with the game farm industrythe threat of wildlife displacement and habitat lossit is often the Big Velvet Ranch that they point to first.
According to Montana law, wild game animals are a public resource and cannot be confined by private individuals. In 1993, when owner Len Wallace built the eight-foot-high fences around 1800 acres of his ranch, the land, like all lands that are fenced for game ranching, had to be cleared of all wild game. Because the land had served as traditional range for wild mule deer and whitetails, the clearing was no small task. Wallace hired teenagers to run through the area, hazing the animals outside the fences. Two helicopters buzzed overhead, trying to keep the deer moving. The area was temporarily opened to hunters holding unused deer permits from the season before. Finally, before the closing of the fences, game wardens were forced to shoot 49 mule deer that had eluded both the hunters and the hazing effort. In 1996, when Wallace applied for a permit to fence another 1100 acres of his ranch, the numbers of wildlife to be displaced were enormousmore than 750 mule deer, a herd of elk, and scattered bands of whitetails. Sportsmen and conservationists across the state were outraged at the prospect of displacing so much wildlife for a private enterprise, and letters of protest flowed in to the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP). Eventually, FWP denied the expansion permit and successfully fought subsequent appeals. The Big Velvet expansion permit is the only game ranching permit ever denied by the FWP.
³An elk ranch is nothing like a cattle ranch,² says David Stalling, conservation editor for Bugle magazine, the monthly publication of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. ³Cattle ranching is usually very compatible with wildlifeelk and deer and just about anything else can cross a cattle fence to use the land for winter range, or as a migration route, or as a calving area. But when you put up an eight-foot-tall woven-wire fence, you put an end to all of that.²
Bob Spoklie takes the view of a rancher trying to make a living. ³When the chips are down, youıve got to make a profit from your land, or you wonıt be able to keep it. If wildlife is eating the grass you need for your livestock, you are going to fail.² He points out that, on the property now occupied by the Big Velvet, all the previous ranch owners had failed with traditional livestock. ³But since Wallace went in there and fenced the place for elk, he kept out the wild deer and elk that were eating all the forage, and he has made a financial success of it.²
Itıs issues like displacement, loss of winter range, and disease threats to wild game that have kept FWP extraordinarily busy monitoring the game ranch industry, and they have managed to please just about nobody. Sportsmen say that their license dollars are being used to monitor an industry that is in direct opposition to their interests. Meanwhile, the game ranch industry insists that the FWP is trying to drive them out of business, adding that because their elk are domestic, they belong under the control of the Department of Livestock (DOL), which currently shares jurisdiction with the FWP.
Pat Graham, director of FWP, says his agency has been placed in an impossible situation. ³I can tell you that I spent three years getting pounded by the game ranch industry,² Graham says. ³They have been extremely aggressive, and theyıve done a very good job of painting us as the persecutors, and themselves as the downtrodden. Now we are getting pushed from the other side. Both sides need to understand that we are bound to carry out the mandates of the legislature.²
Last year, State Sen. Ken Mesaros introduced a bill to place the game ranch industry under the sole control of the DOL, but the bill failed to pass. Critics say the bill was a blatant attempt to cut the interests of wildlife and sportsmen out of the decision-making process regarding new and existing game ranches (Mesaros himself is now in the process of starting his own game ranch on his property south of Great Falls). But supporters say the purpose of the bill was to streamline the permitting process and save taxpayer money.
MALP spokesman Mark Taylor, a Helena lawyer whose family cattle ranch also raises elk, sums up his groupıs position: ³Everything that is outside the fences is wildlife, and the FWP should be concerned. Everything that is inside the fences is livestock, and only the DOL should have any control over it.² But the idea doesnıt sit well with FWP.
³We work cooperatively with the DOL,² said Pat Graham. ³We have the wildlife expertise, they have the disease expertise.²
At present, Graham and the FWP are still having a hard time pleasing either the game ranchers or the conservationists. The Montana Wildlife Federation is preparing two lawsuits, one against the FWP and one against the DOL, alleging a negligent and dangerous lack of enforcement of the regulations regarding game ranches.
Behind all the regulations, and at the heart of the lawsuit being prepared by the Montana Wildlife Federation, is the fear that diseases will be introduced to wild elk and deer that live outside game ranch fences. And very few people on either side of the conflict can deny that the disease problem is real.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, bovine tuberculosis infected captive herds of elk in Montana, perhaps from shipments of elk from other states. Then, Canadian livestock officials say, elk shipped from Montana sparked a TB epidemic in Alberta that swept across the province. The TB infected deer, pigs, cattle, bison and elk. Forty-one humans were treated for the disease.
Back in Montana, several elk herds were placed under a five-year quarantine for TB, including the Kesler ranch near Philipsburg and the Elk Valley Game Farm near Hardin. Since then, most officials and game ranchers have come to believe that with a new and more accurate test and more careful monitoring of captive herds, the TB threat has been reduced.
But by far the most troublesome disease to emerge in captive elk and deer so far is Chronic Wasting disease (CWD). First found in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967, CWD belongs to a group of deadly maladies known as TSEs, or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, a group that includes the so-called ³mad cow² disease that devastated the British beef industry in the early 1990s. Also among the TSEs are scrapie, a disease that has killed sheep for centuries in Europe and has been recognized in the U.S. for the past 50 years; and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which causes dementia and rapid death in humans. The precise origin and makeup of TSEs is a mystery, much studied and debated by scientists.
In late 1997, CWD showed up in elk on a game farm in South Dakota, and in the next two years was found in Saskatchewan, Nebraska, Colorado, and in two elk sold by the Kesler ranch in Montana to a rancher in Oklahoma. Kesler had also sold elk to the Elk Valley ranch near Hardin. As a result, both ranches, and the ranch in Oklahoma, went under quarantine. Last December, officials decided to ³depopulate² the Kesler ranch, euthanizing 81 elk with a mixture of lethal drugs. Six weeks later, tests results confirmed the presence of CWD in three of the elk. The Elk Valley ranch soon may be facing a similar fate.
As it stands now, state agencies have drafted new regulations concerning the transport of deer and elk into the state of Montana. Among the stipulations is that any new arrivals must come from a herd that has been monitored for CWD for at least two yearsa difficult situation since there is no way to test a live animal for CWD. The Montana Wildlife Federation has repeatedly requested a moratorium on the transport of domestic game animals until a live test can be found.
The game ranch industry has taken the problem seriously but has no intention of going along with a transportation moratorium. To date, an organization called the Elk Research Council, funded by NAEBA, has spent over $200,000 to try to find a live test. They keep a CWD-infected herd of elk behind double fences in South Dakota for research. ³We really need to get beyond the philosophical differences and realize that we are all in the same boat as far as disease issues go,² says Mark Taylor. ³We depend completely on a healthy elk herd, and want to find a solution to this problem as soon as possible.²
Still, the game ranchers believe that the issue has been blown out of proportion by their opponents. ³We are under a microscope here,² said Bob Spoklie, ³and itıs easy to see that the CWD problem has been used against us. Sometimes I think that if we could put fins and a tail on an elk, theyıd charge us all with starting whirling disease.²
The coming year will bring the game ranching industry further into the spotlight, as the governorıs office changes hands and as the citizensı initiatives drafted by MACOW are subjected to the vote. Gubernatorial candidate Mark OıKeefe has already made his thoughts on the subject very clear. ³Frankly,² he says, ³after the Kesler experience, and now with the Elk Valley problem going unresolved, itıs time to evaluate whether this is an industry that Montana really wants or can afford. We have to decide whether to bring this to a halt before we do irreparable harm to our wildlife.²
Meanwhile, for Flathead game rancher Marty Boehm, the future looks good. Asked about a 10-year plan, he says, ³We will have a live test for CWD, and will have eliminated it from our domestic herds. We will be supplying the elk meat that is now imported from New Zealand, and the market will be strong. Velvet, which is the fastest-growing tissue in the natural world, will be in strong demand on the domestic as well as the Asian market. There will be so much competition among hunters for wild elk that ranch shooting opportunities will be in greater demand than ever.²
October 23, 2000 Hal Herring High Country NewsYou can hear the booming of high-caliber rifles on the elk farms of Montana this fall, as well-heeled clients enter fenced enclosures to experience "no kill-no pay" hunting, and to test their marksmanship on the trophy bull of their choice. There's no shortage of clients, and even under tough new restrictions imposed to combat chronic wasting disease, a relative of mad cow disease, business is good (HCN, 9/27/99).
Elk ranchers also say that demand for elk meat is expanding, and the trade in velvet - the immature, blood-rich antler marketed as a tonic and aphrodisiac - has rebounded with the Asian economy. There are 82 elk-ranching operations in Montana, and in contrast to financially stressed grain and cattle operations, the elk industry seems ripe for expansion.
But it has been an extremely controversial business in this state, where wild elk are revered, and where traditional hunting and conservation ethics are regarded with an almost religious fervor.
A sportsmen's group called MADCOW - Montanans against the Domestication and Commercialization of Wildlife - drafted a ballot initiative, I-143, that if passed will effectively throttle the elk-ranching industry here. It would ban captive trophy shooting and place a moratorium on issuing any licenses for new operations. Existing operations that could survive without trophy shooting could continue to operate.
"They can still sell that snake oil," says Gary Holmquist, MADCOW's chairman and primary energy source, referring to selling velvet antler. "They can harvest meat, sell breeding stock. But our initiative will bring a halt to canned shooting, which is an insult to all legitimate hunters, and an insult to these intelligent and beautiful animals."
Giving hunters a bad name
Holmquist, who lives in Lolo, Mont., is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel, who spends the fall months hunting elk with rifle and bow in the Bitterroot Mountains and Bob Marshall Wilderness.
"I have talked to people who believe that all hunters take part in these canned shoots. That's the image they have of hunting. It's disgusting, and it plays right into the hands of the people who hate hunting, and who hate the private ownership of firearms," says Holmquist.
The initiative was supported from the beginning by the Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Bowhunters Association, and Montana Chapter of the Wildlife Society, a group that represents professional wildlife biologists. MADCOW volunteers collected over 29,000 signatures on their petition to place I-143 on the ballot, almost 10,000 more than is required by law.
"Obviously, the citizens want to have a say in this," says Holmquist. "Our wildlife is being placed at risk for the profits of these game ranchers, and then we're being told to pick up the tab." Of particular concern to both game ranchers and their opponents has been the emergence of chronic wasting disease on two elk ranches in Montana. Many people worry that it could pass from captive elk to wild elk and deer outside the fences, with devastating results. Holmquist estimates that over the past five years, state wildlife officials have spent almost $1 million monitoring the elk-ranching industry.
"That's money that comes from sportsmen," he says. "Public money is being spent to protect wildlife from an industry that makes a mockery of everything we believe in."
In September, the Montana Alternative Livestock Producers (MALP) filed a lawsuit against the state to have I-143 removed from the ballot, but Helena District Judge Jeffery Sherlock let the initiative remain. Shortly afterward, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based in Missoula and representing over 125,000 members, broke a long-standing tradition of political neutrality and publicly supported I-143.
"We don't tell our members how to vote," said Rich Gordon, a spokesman for the Foundation, "and this is the first time we've ever supported a ballot initiative. But this is something so close to our hearts, and so close to the mission statement of the Elk Foundation."
A death blow?
In ruling in favor of I-143, Judge Sherlock noted that his decision would have no bearing on whether MALP or its members could bring a constitutional challenge against the initiative if it passes. And they will.
"I-143 is unconstitutional on several grounds," says MALP attorney Mark Taylor, of Helena. "I can't say for sure that MALP will challenge it on those grounds, but I know that some of the producers will. You can't treat business owners differently under the law, just because you don't like their business.
"Why is it that someone charging for trout fishing in ponds or lakes on private land is fine, but shooting elk or bison is out of the question?" he asks. "There's no rational distinction there, and you can't make one."
Taylor says he hopes voters will recognize that the initiative is going to hurt farming families. "I-143 will put 90 to 95 families out of business," he says. "Proponents say that they are not trying to close anybody down, but they are closing their markets, and that's the same thing." He also points out that the elk industry has spent over half a million dollars on chronic wasting disease research. "Meanwhile, our opponents have spent zero."
Craig Hayes of Paso Robles, Calif., is a hunt broker and the manager and designer of five fenced big-game ranches, two of which are in Montana. He says he wouldn't try to predict how Montanans will vote on I-143: "You would think that Montana would be the last bastion of private enterprise, but actually it's the worst state in the U.S. The intent of our opponents has been clear for a long time," he says. "They've used chronic wasting disease as a tool to hack away away at the industry, but they really want to deal us a death blow.
"I've opened a new ranch in Colorado, and business is good at my other places," he adds, "so I'm not too worried."
Tue, Nov 7, 2000 By Mary Jean Porter The Pueblo ChieftainRussell George, director of the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the division's problems are political, not scientific, and he has the tools to help solve them. "Wildlife -- what's a guy like me doing in a place like this? I'm the first non-natural resources guy to be appointed to this position in a long time, and some people wondered why. 'What's going on here?' they said. 'Why don't we have a conservationist?' " But, George told Pachyderms of Pueblo (a Republican club) on Friday, it makes sense for the politically troubled agency to have a director with some political savvy.
"Having been there for two months, the tools I brought with me (from serving eight years in the Colorado Legislature) I have used every day. I have 750 people behind me if I have science questions -- some of the finest, brightest biologists in the country." George resigned as Speaker of the House Sept. 18 when he accepted the appointment as director of the Division of Wildlife.
"The hostility that has appeared between the DOW and the Legislature during recent years is nothing new. It's always been there, but there is no need for it," George said. "I think I'm going to be the first political director of the division to take the politics out of it. The solution is for the division to do our job so well the people don't have complaints and don't go to their legislators about them."
George said the elk "harvest" all across the state is reported to be very good, while the mule deer population -- and hence the number of licenses issued -- is down for some reason, perhaps predation of fawns by lions, coyotes or even bears. Also on the topic of deer, George talked about the incidence of chronic wasting disease, its resemblance to "mad cow disease," and the concern that people who inadvertently eat infected deer possibly might contract the disease.
"We do have a herd of deer near Fort Collins where there's a higher than normal incidence of chronic wasting disease -- it looks to be about 15 percent of the deer have it," he said. "I'm told everyone is still comfortable with the science, that it just cannot be transmitted from the deer to humans by eating the flesh. I asked my staff to go back and keep track of it. Some states are setting up task forces to deal with this.
"I will not have a panic," George said. "We won't hide anything -- that's not the way we operate."
George said the epidemic of whirling disease in rainbow trout will have to be stopped at the hatchery level, and by 2003 or 2004 the state hatcheries all should be cleaned up. "Certainly, by 2003 we won't be allowing even private hatcheries to stock infected fish. We will buy as many disease-free fish as we can get."
Sun, 5 Nov 2000. Three letters from Bozeman Daily ChronicleGreg Campbell:
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about I-143 in an attempt to pull the public toward the game farm industry. The game farm industry is in no way beneficial to the residents of Montana, and pose a threat to the wildlife that this initiative is designed to protect. The game farm industry has had numerous documented violations, including the illegal capturing of wild game and the escape of captive elk, which at some point may contribute to disease outbreaks in the wild herds.
The game farm industry raises animals to sell as trophies, as well as breeding stock for new game farm businesses. Of the 80-plus game farms operating in the state, a small percent will be affected by I-143. The game farms will no longer allow their hunters (and I use this term loosely) to shoot captive big game, while the remaining game farms will be unaffected. It's pretty sad when money can buy you a trophy of a lifetime and you don't even have to get off the pavement.
The major concerns Montanans should have with the game farm industry are the spread of disease and the genetic disaster of hybrids breeding with the native herds. Chronic wasting disease and tuberculosis have already been found within game farms in Montana. The big losses are when the hybrids and diseases are spread into our wild herds, and the multimillion-dollar industry of hunting and viewing of wildlife is jeopardized, along with the state trying to control the problem.
Montana's "alternative livestock producers" are pulling out all the stops. On the radio, they have Taylor Brown threatening "Montana's taxpayers" with a $50 million bill for the "takings" of game farmers' property. Billboards are sprouting up claiming that "environmental and animal rights extremists" are behind I-143.
In the voter information pamphlet, they claim that disease is a "non-issue." Excuse me, but disease is THE issue! Montana's game farm industry conveniently downplays tuberculosis outbreaks at a facility near Hardin and the discovery of chronic wasting disease at a facility near Philipsburg.
As someone who has burned a small forest worth of trees to heat my home and has hunted all my life, I hardly consider myself an "environmental or animal rights extremist." And I invite anyone to investigate the "takings" issue, as you will find it is a "non-issue." Lame scare tactics, lies, and self-serving rhetoric comprise the game farm industry's campaign against I-143. I will vote for I-143, and urge Montanans from all walks of life, concerned about our wildlife resource, to do the same.
The threat of disease from game farms to Montana's wild elk herds has been well discussed. Unfortunately, what has not been so well discussed is the same threat as it pertains to Montana's ranching and farming community.
Please recall when the mad cow epidemic broke in Great Britain (and Britain had trouble persuading other countries to buy its beef)....
In a recent correspondence to the University of Wyoming's Department of Veterinary Sciences, I asked about the possible transmission of chronic wasting disease (CWD) from infected elk to cattle. I was told, "We (a number of scientists in different agencies) take this potential seriously and are studying this question." ... Already, preliminary results show some cattle to be susceptible to CWD from mule deer when inoculated intracerebrally.
I have the same concerns with tuberculosis (TB). Canada spent millions of dollars trying to rid the country of TB. Analysis by Ag Canada had determined that TB-free status would be worth $1 billion over 20 years to Canadian agriculture. Canada's efforts and considerable expenditures on eradication programs had succeeded to a point where they achieved that precious disease-free status in 1992. Unfortunately, and against the advice of many wildlife scientists, Canadian provinces had begun legalizing and developing game ranching in the mid-1980s. It took less than five years for the scientists' predictions to be realized: a massive outbreak of TB on game farms across the country in the early 1990s destroyed Canada's TB-free status. The results were infection of humans with TB, and a massive, expensive eradication of hundreds of elk and deer.
What I can't understand is why Montana ranchers and farmers are so afraid of brucellosis from bison but are willing to ignore CWD and TB threats from game farms. This is despite the fact that there has never been a documented case of brucellosis transmission >from wild, free-ranging bison to cattle. What an ominous threat to Montana agriculture. Does anyone reasonably believe that other states will import Montana beef if even one case of CWD in cattle shows up here?
By MARK HENCKEL Gazette Outdoor EditorIt's probably a good thing that most hunters and fishermen own a pair of chest-high waders. Hopefully other voters will come to the ballot box Tuesday armed with them, as well. For when it comes to I-143, the so-called Game Farm Initiative, you end up wading through a considerable amount of fiction and conjecture before you get to the facts.
For example and read all of this because if the campaign spin doctors pick, choose, edit and distort it in TV ads, you might not recognize it anymore: Opponents say that I-143 is a product of anti-hunting groups like the Fund for Animals. No, it's not. In fact, the initiative was spawned and backed by a long list of organizations that represent hunters and fishermen.
Backers give the impression that all game farms are nothing more than pools of disease and unwanted genetics, waiting to foul the healthy and pure wildlife herds of Montana. In fact, although some wildlife disease has been found on game farms and some red deer genes have been found in game farm elk, neither have run rampant across the state yet.
Opponents say that today, it's the game farms that the I-143 people want to phase out. Next, they'll target cattle ranches and all hunting. In fact, I-143 deals with game farms and shooting game farm animals alone.
Backers say the economic impacts of game farms are small compared to the many-multimillion-dollar hunting, wildlife viewing and tourist industries that could be impacted if wildlife diseases spread. That may be true, but in limiting game farms, we're still talking about impacting Montana's economy which is something we should not take lightly.
All the rhetoric aside, I-143 would do just three things: 1) prohibit new game farms in Montana; 2) prohibit the transfer in ownership of existing game farms; and 3) prohibit the shooting of game farm animals for a fee. There are a variety of reasons to vote for this initiative some covered in the initiative and some not.
The notion of shooting what game farm owners themselves describe as tame, domesticated animals within enclosed fences and calling it hunting in the end, just so somebody can boast about the so-called trophy they bagged is distasteful to just about everybody except the game farm owners who are collecting fees for it.
Sawing velvet antlers off a live animal to be ground up and sold as Asian sex and vitality stimulants is pretty distasteful to most of us as well. And there's nothing sadder than looking at those game farm bull elk for the rest of the year with their antler stumps.
As to the use of many thousands of hunting and fishing license dollars to license and regulate game farms, monitor for wildlife diseases in and around game farms and pay game farm owners to help compensate for their animals that turn up diseased, that is equally offensive. If this industry is indeed so darn profitable, let ëem pay all their own bills for impacts on themselves and others.
The issue of allowing private property owners to do what they choose with their property is nettlesome. It would make the judgment call on this initiative difficult, until you consider that the impacts of this industry in the past have gone beyond their own fences in Montana and, in fact, diseased animals have been shipped out of state.
If game farms were simply livestock operations with the long history of cattle ranches in providing food for the country, paying their own way and working hard to make sure their animals were disease-free, I-143 would also be unnecessary. Some game farms are like that. Too many are not. And the risks of disease that those others pose to native wildlife, and the smear that game farm hunts put on the sport of hunting, do go beyond their own fences. In the end, the costs will be passed on to the rest of us.
As written, I-143 would not put an immediate end to game farming in Montana. It would stop its expansion. It would stop the transfer of licenses. It would stop the sham of game farm hunting.
October 31, 2000 by Gary Holmquist"There is no rational discourse now concerning I-143. We've put forward the facts about disease, about habitat loss, about the ugliness and far reaching consequences of penned shooting. The industry makes no attempt to refute the information we have presented, because it is all a matter of record. Instead, they have countered with bald-faced lies. In the realm of politics, I guess lying is has a long, if not repulsive tradition. However, the lies are being told serve to illustrate a much greater danger. If the game farm industry is led by men willing to stand up in front of the public and say that I-143 is backed by The Fund for Animals, or PETA, when we are the concerned sportsmen and wildlife biologists of Montana and they are perfectly aware of that fact, how can we trust them to be honest in conducting the business of responsible game farming? How can we allow men who are willing to loudly and publically say things that they know are not true to continue to conduct a business that threatens our wildlife and our hunting traditions? This is a business that comes with a guaranteed risk to public wildlife, and a business which relies almost completely on the integrity and diligence of the producers themselves to monitor that risk. How can we trust that they will be honest, when they have shown themselves to be so willing to lie.
Our books are open to the public. Our funding is from sportsmen organizations and individuals from across Montana. Anyone who wants to verify this need only to look at the books. We have received no money from PETA, FFA, or any other animal rights organizations and certainly none from out of state supporters. Our opponents can not make this claim as they have received a minimum of $50,000 >from the North American Elk Breeder's Association located in Platte City, Mo. This is can be verified by going to the North American Elk Breeder's website.
Len Wallace said that there was no TB epidemic on game farms in Canada. But of course, this simply is not true. There was of course, in 1991 and 3000 captive elk were slaughtered by Agriculture officials. This can be verified with a single phone to Dr. Maria Koller, Canadian Food Inspection Service 613-228-6696, ext (4650). $25 million of public funds were used to compensate game farmers for their eradicated herds. At the same time, 6 Montana game farms were placed under TB quarantine and the Elk Valley Game Farm near Hardin, was found to have infected wild game that lived outside its fences. This is the same game farm that was recently depopulated and the second in Montana suspected to have Chronic wasting disease. Yet, Mr. Wallace, the owner of the largest game farm in the US is unaware of this TB epidemic. Charitably, you could say that he was simply lying and as a successful businessman, he is very well aware of the TB problems in Canada and the potential for such problems to adversely effect his own vast business in Darby. But what if Mr. Wallace in not lying? What if he really doesn't know about the Canadian TB epidemic? What does that indicate about the knowledge and wisdom of the owner of the largest and most controversial game farm in the US? Are we to trust him not too endanger our wildlife legacy? Shall we rest easy knowing that he will act in accordance with public interest while pursuing his business?
In the Bitterroot Valley, there is another game farm operation up on Bourne Lane. The owner has posted signs around his eight foot high fences containing his domesticated elk. The signs on the fences that say in bold print "These animals have been tested by the state for c.w.d. and DO NOT HAVE C.W.D. which was first found in wild deer and elk." Now considering there is no live test for chronic wasting disease and our state and national officials cannot say where c.w.d. originated, this is just another example of how this industry attempts to mislead the public. The fact that there is no live test for c.w.d. can be verified by a single phone call to anyone of a number of researchers working on this bizarre and mysterious disease. Veterinary pathologist Dr. Beth Williams is one of the pioneers of this research-307-742-6638. Rocky Mountain Labs in Hamilton, not ten miles from the game farm fences, will also be able to anyone interested that no such tests exists. So what must we say about the signs? Does the owner of the game farm know that they present completely false information? Are they a deliberate attempt to mislead?
Charitably, in this case, let's say that the game farm owner is an honest man who believes his elk have been tested for CWD. Do we rest easy knowing that he is conducting his business successfully, aware of the risks, monitoring his herd with skill and knowledge? CWD is a member of the same family of diseases that includes CJD and BSE or "Madcow" disease. CJD, a variant which produces dementia and rapid death in humans and which has thus far claimed the lives of 86 people who ate British beef during the 1980's. 4.7 million British beef cattle were slaughtered in an attempt to control the cattle variant known as "madcow disease," in Britain.
British Agriculture officials have just recently revealed that they knew that infection of human who ate beef during the epidemic was possible, but they were afraid to be the ones who destroyed the British beef industry which happened anyway. Thousands if not millions of people were ultimately exposed. Should Montana cattle and sheep producers rest easy knowing that a game farm operator in the Bitterroot Valley believes that his elk are proven to be clean of CWD? Perhaps the public should research this a bit more.
Given the numerous examples of how we have continuously been manipulated and mislead by the game farm industry concerning the issues of disease, genetic pollution, the negative images of hunting etc., do we really believe we can trust this industry to look out for the welfare of our wildlife over their personal economic gain? Do we really believe that the rules, which they helped write, will help protect our wildlife from the numerous threats that the industry refuses to acknowledge even exist or have already caused millions of dollars in loses to the public's wildlife and taxpayers? Do we really want the negative images of ëcanned hunts" portrayed about one of Montana's oldest and most treasured traditions-that of fair chase hunting? More importantly, do we really believe that this industry does not pose some very real threats to our traditional agriculture industry? Judge for yourself. Examine the facts. Look at the evidence in Canada. Look at the devastation in Great Britain. You be the judge and don't be swayed by misleading and false propaganda put forward by an industry that cannot even justify its existence without jeapordizing what we all cherish deeply here in Montana. "
31 Oct 00 NY Times By SANDRA BLAKESLEEOpinion (webmaster): It seems like Colorado went ahead with a normal hunting season anyway, even in the units with 15% CWD. The webmaster called for voluntary tonsil biopsy program for hunters known to have consumed tainted meat in previous years but it didn't make it into the story. It is important to use a leading indicator rather than wait for full-blown disease to manifest itself -- oral route will infect GI tract and lymphatic system first. Likening the situation to the early days of the mad cow epidemic in Britain, some biologists say American hunters should be warned about a similar malady that has infected wild deer and elk in parts of Colorado and Wyoming.
The malady is called chronic wasting disease. While no cases of human disease have been directly traced to deer or elk meat, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that it could happen. And with the hunting season in full swing, a number of scientists are calling for more action to warn hunters about the potential problem.
Both mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease are believed to be caused by aberrant proteins, called infectious prions, which affect the brain, destroying tissue and leaving it with sponge-like holes. When the cow disease first appeared in Britain in the mid-1980's, government agriculture and health officials initially offered assurances that it could not spread to people.
By now, though, 77 Britons have died of a related brain disorder that they are believed to have contracted from consuming affected meat. It is not known how many others may ultimately fall ill and die.
Eventually, the British government destroyed almost four million cattle to stem the spread of the disease. But last week a three-year investigation into the causes of the epidemic severely criticized the government's "culture of secrecy" in not being more honest with the public, and for using "an approach whose object was sedation."
Wildlife officials in Colorado and Wyoming, where the chronic wasting disease is firmly entrenched along their shared border and is estimated to affect 1 percent of elk and from 6 percent to 15 percent of deer, insist that not enough is known about the problem to cancel hunting permits.
Dr. Mike Williams, a veterinarian at the Colorado Department of Wildlife in Fort Collins said, "We don't think the problem is a big deal." Areas where the disease is endemic are not closed to hunting, nor is there a need to close them, he said. "If people choose to hunt there, it is their choice," he said.
Instead, hunters are advised by state wildlife officials to avoid obviously sick animals and to use rubber gloves in cutting up all carcasses, particularly brain and nervous tissues where the infectious prions apparently concentrate. But people familiar with hunting practices in those areas say hunters are not taking even these precautions.
"Around here, people are not knowledgeable about the disease or just don't care," Arnold Hale, a retired hunting outfitter from Livermore, Colo., said in a telephone interview. "When you talk to hunters, most don't trust the government. I don't know anyone taking precautions."
Kurt Zunker, 28, a probation officer from Cheyenne, Wyo., who is an avid hunter, said: "I'm aware of the situation but not really abreast to the complete ramifications of it. It won't stop me from hunting."
Mad cow disease and chronic wasting disease are among a bizarre class of prion-caused disorders known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies or T.S.E.'s. The aberrant protein molecules are folded abnormally, which seems to endow them with their ability to cause disease. Sometimes they seem to misfold all on their own. In other cases, the misfolded proteins are transmitted via food, blood transfusions or surgical instruments.
Transmission is difficult to track, however, because people or animals typically develop the disease a long time after they have been exposed to the misfolded prions. Until a few years ago, for example, it was widely believed that each animal, including humans, had its own unique form of T.S.E. and that the diseases rarely passed between species.
But in 1996, when young Britons began dying from a particularly rapid human form of the disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or C.J.D., the species barrier began to crumble. Until then C.J.D. was diagnosed exclusively in much older people. Tests soon revealed that the disease was a new variant of C.J.D. that could be traced directly to eating cattle infected with mad cow disease.
In recent months, researchers have discovered that a prion from hamsters, thought never to infect mice, not only replicates profusely in mice but it does so without producing disease symptoms. In other words, mice can be silent carriers of a disease that originated in hamsters. When subsequent generations of mice are exposed to blood or nervous tissues from silent carrier mice, they get the disease. Other experiments carried out in the United States show that the deer or elk prion in chronic wasting disease can convert healthy human prions into infectious prions in test tubes. The conversion rate is slow but certain.
The best available science shows that chronic wasting disease can infect human tissue but wildlife officials are carrying on with "business as usual," said Dr. Tom Pringle, a biologist in Eugene, Ore., who closely follows T.S.E. worldwide and independently studies the disease.
"Who'd want hamburger from a cow where 15 percent of the herd had mad cow disease?" Dr. Pringle asked. "Who'd want mutton from a sheep where 15 percent of the sheep had scrapie? To me it looks like Russian roulette for hunters."
Most Americans don't understand how dangerous these diseases really are, Dr. Pringle said. It is extremely difficult to kill infectious prions that have come into contact with surgical instruments, yet some hunter who is "tired, cold, hungry and drunk" will cut off a deer head, handle the animal's spinal cord and "stick his hunting knife back into his scabbard," he said. That knife could spread disease.
Dr. Pringle strongly criticizes wildlife officials as downplaying the seriousness of chronic wasting disease. Just as British agricultural officials initially acted to protect the image of the cattle industry one even fed hamburger to his 4-year-old daughter on television to prove beef was safe American wildlife officials are acting to shield hunting and fishing, he said. Fishing and hunting license fees provide a substantial portion of their agencies' income.
But Dr. Elizabeth Williams, a veterinarian at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and a leading researcher on chronic wasting disease, said that hunters are not going to be deterred until there is much better evidence that chronic wasting disease in deer and elk is a danger to people. The prevalence and incidence of chronic wasting disease has not changed much over the past several years, she said. And it is still not known how one animal passes the disease to another, much less if humans face more than a theoretical risk.
Hunters, many of whom come from other states, are given a 54- page brochure that describes chronic wasting disease, Dr. Miller said, and on page 9 they are advised to avoid coming into contact with brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen or lymph nodes of any deer or elk they might kill. The brochure states that "it is unlikely that chronic wasting disease is naturally transmissible to humans."
Nevertheless, some Colorado wildlife officials have suggested killing 50 percent of the deer in the north- central part of the state where more of the deer are infected, Mr. Hale said. "They want to kill them and start over," he said. But he added that they do not think the disease threatens hunters. "It would have shown up by now" in people, he said.
On Saturday, Mr. Zunker went elk hunting about 15 miles from his home not far from the state border, an area where rates of chronic wasting disease are high.
"I talked to a game warden the other day and he didn't mention anything to me about a problem in that area," he said. "I don't get overly concerned. I don't know if Game and Fish have done a good job of informing the public. But if it's a true threat, how come they haven't reduced hunting quotas?"
Thu, 02 Nov 2000 13 Portland Oregonian Op-Ed piece webmaster"Mad cow disease, whose once-disputed transmission to humans (as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) is now validated by 85 deaths in 3 countries, raising the stakes to Americans, especially hunters, from closely related spongiform brain disorders.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is well-established in American deer and elk herds in Colorado and Wyoming, reaching an unbelievable 20% in some hunting units. Gutting game and severing spinal cords to take trophies under field conditions, hunters expose themselves to tissues that scientists would only handle in a Level III biohazard facility.
What relevence is this to someone who hunts in Oregon?
Only a single case of CWD has ever been confirmed in an Oregon cervid, a black-tail that developed symptoms in Colorado. ODFW believes that a widespread hair loss syndrome in Willamette Valley deer, superficially resembling CWD, results from an unrelated parasitic load.
All known cases of CWD trace back to the Foothills Research Station in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Here, wild deer were raised for nutrition experiments under confined conditions in former sheep paddocks. Sheep are highly susceptible to scrapie, another spongiform encephalopathy. Surplus preclinical cervids were distributed to game farms and zoos, and released back into the wild establishing the epidemic.
Scrapie is not uncommon in Willamette Valley sheep; cervids share sheep pastures at different times. No evidence exists for scrapie transfer into Oregon deer or elk. While monitoring is minimal, a situation like that in Colorado would hopefully have been noticed.
Captive game farms in Oregon have not reported CWD. However, the industry has experienced horrific problems with CWD in other western states and provinces, including fenceline transmission and mingling with wild stock. Asymptomatic but infected cervids are typically imported from a facility not yet aware that it is hosting CWD. No live animal test exists, meaning certification programs directed at brucellosis and tuberculosis do not halt the spread of CWD.
Prion diseases are invariably fatal, with as much of one-third of the brain lost to sponge-like holes as the presenile dementia develops. Early warning signs of anxiety and fatigue give way to memory loss, twitching, and incontinence. It gets worse from there, much worse. The incubation period can be decades; no therapy exists.
The best available scientific information, published in a European scientific journal this September, says CWD transmits to humans quite ineffeciently, posing about the same quantitative risk as BSE, a whole lot more than most people want. Cooking has no particular effect on titres of infectious agent.
In an eery parallel to early days of the BSE epidemic, fish and game officials in affected states have been quick to offer reassurances, despite the study, that venison from CWD-affected deer is safe to eat, saying no human cases have been seen so far. However no monitoring program exists; indeed, the diagnostic signature of CWD in humans is not known. Alarm bells went off last year when several young hunters in the West developed CJD, including a 29 year old (since deceased) who had donated plasma over a hundred times prior to diagnosis.
In summary, Oregon does not have a proven problem with CWD, despite plausible yet hypothetical routes of infection from sheep scrapie and game farm CWD. Both sources need more vigilant monitoring from ODFW. Nevertheless, hunters should be aware that CWD could likely be transmitted to humans from high risk tissues such as brain, spinal cord, and lymphatic system.
While life itself entails many risks, few people would openly embrace an incurable infectious dementia."