Our View: Keep elk testing at 100 percent

February 18, 2014 

There is no evidence of the always fatal and horrifically toxic hunting and public relations nightmare of chronic wasting disease in either the farmed or wild elk herds in Idaho, so scaling back from 100 to 10 percent of testing for CWD on farms is probably OK, right?

Absolutely not.

What would possess the Idaho Legislature and the Department of Agriculture to gamble with the future of its domestic and wild elk herds? The Idaho Elk Breeders Association likes the idea because the ag department is short on money to conduct the testing and, so, hey, let’s just cut back because less is more.

We may find out as early as Tuesday if this kind of penny-wise/pound-foolish position is upheld when the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee is expected to take it up.

Once upon a time the idea of testing only 10 percent of Wisconsin’s farmed deer population for deadly CWD may have sounded like a fine and frugal idea. But that’s before the disease — which is a biological equivalent of mad cow disease in cattle — was discovered in the farmed and wild herds of Wisconsin in 2002.

Ever since, Wisconsin has been waging a $32 million mitigation and PR campaign to suppress or at least control a growing chronic wasting problem in its deer herd. Now, neighboring Illinois is undergoing similar measures. Unless the meat is tested, people are quite fearful to consume, or even consider it.

Eighteen states, including Utah and Wyoming, now report CWD incidence since it was first discovered in northeastern Colorado in the late 1960s. It affects American cervids (hoofed, ruminant mammals, with males characteristically having antlers) and particularly mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, and moose. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was first identified as a spongiform encephalopathy in 1978.

CWD is thought to transfer between farmed and wild herds — and that’s why fencing is so important to thwart intermingling. Though there is much to be learned about the disease, there has never been a confirmed case of human infection. That said — similar-type maladies do strike humans.

If there is a desire to save elk and the farm/hunting industry, we suggest some of the $2 million set aside for Gov. Butch Otter’s wolf predation board should be moved over in that direction.

Managing wolves has a price tag and is worthy of consideration for preserving elk. But failing to manage a CWD testing program at 100 percent levels to protect the elk and deer population is a gamble nobody can afford.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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