Wildlife agencies fight game ranchers to halt CWD
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2002:
MADISON, Wisconsin; PORTLAND, Oregon–Just a year ago
wildlife agencies thought the biggest threats to the future of
hunting were animal rights activism and the aging hunter population.
Hunting publications and web sites pushed right-to-hunt laws and
Discovered among captive-reared deer and elk in Colorado in
1966, after cervids and sheep were raised together for some time at
an agricultural research station, chronic wasting disease was barely
Experts knew that CWD is closely related to “mad cow
disease,” epidemic in England since 1986, and that both diseases
seem to have resulted from the sheep disease scrapie crossing species
barriers. Yet even after it emerged among ranched elk in
Saskatchewan (1996), and Nebraska and Oklahoma (1998), wildlife
managers and hunters viewed it chiefly as a curiosity.
That was before CWD hit wild deer and elk in Montana,
Kansas, Alberta, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Suddenly CWD seems to be racing like wildfire, crossing the
Mississippi River to menace the dense wild deer and captive deer and
elk herds of the northeast.
Along with CWD, awareness is spreading that the disease
seems related to the invariably fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in
humans, and especially to the “new variant” form of the disease
which strikes mainly young people, apparently after they ingest
brain or spinal tissue from an infected animal.
Fear of CWD is almost overnight shutting down so-called
canned hunts, which had been exploding in popularity among hunters
and profitability for the proprietors for more than a decade,
despite the opposition of animal rights activists.
As far back as the 1980s, opponents of canned hunts
testified at public hearings that they could become vectors for
spreading wildlife diseases, and even for enabling diseases to jump
from wildlife to domestic livestock, but even when this possibility
was described by scientists as well-reputed as Valerius Geist of the
University of Calgary, it was largely dismissed as a scare tactic.
Now wildlife managers throughout the U.S. and Canada are
struggling to contain the deadly brain-destroying ailment, not only
as a potentially devastating threat to sport hunting but also because
it is at large now in many of the major dairy and beef ranching
states. Having crossed from species to species at least twice
before, CWD could cross again, and the next time it emerges, it
could bring mad cow disease to North America.
Canned hunts–always seen to some extent as unsporting
competitors for wild deer and elk hunting dollars–are increasingly
seen by officialdom as expendible. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife
Commission, for instance, on November 8 made permanent an August
temporary ban on the import of any live members of the cervid family.
“Oregon joins dozens of other states in imposing similar
restrictions,” reported Bill Monroe of the Portland Oregonian.
But Monroe also reported that Jefferson County Judge Gary S.
Thompson two days earlier ruled that the Oregon Fish and Wildlife
Commission lacks the authority to take that kind of action.
Ruling on behalf of hunting ranch owner Clark Couch, of
Ashwood, Monroe wrote that, “From the court’s perspective,
wildlife are indigenous species running free. Game mammals raised on
a game farm within a confined setting, which are not indigenous,
are not wildlife per se.”
Unless the Thompson verdict is reversed on appeal, it could
also jeopardize the April 1999 requirement of the Oregon Fish and
Wildlife commission that hunting ranches must offer a semblance of a
“fair chase,” affording the animals some chance of escape.
Some of the estimated 950 game ranchers in Wisconsin,
desperate to stay in business, may pursue similar legal arguments.
Nebraska is reportedly considering a whole-herd buyout and cull of
all of the estimated 8,000 captive-reared elk in the state, but the
cost of such a program would be prohibitive, and Wisconsin has an
estimated 37,000 captive-reared deer and elk at potential risk.
Hunting license sales are reportedly down 23% in Winconsin,
but are holding even in Nebraska, with data from other affected
states not yet available.