Guest Opinion: Health of Idaho’s elk deserves attention — and the truth

GUEST OPINION: CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE

March 2, 2014 

Chronic wasting disease does not exist in Idaho farmed elk (domestic cervidae), so scaling back 100 percent testing for the disease on farms and starting some serious testing on wild herds is sensible. A wild moose at the Idaho-Wyoming border tested positive for CWD. Our wild herds are infected with brucellosis and cystic echinoccosis, as well as an unidentified muscle worm. Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game has tested well under 1 percent of wild cervidae in the state.

An incorrect statement in the Idaho Statesman’s editorial states that the Department of Agriculture is short on money to conduct testing. Idaho elk ranchers pay 100 percent of their own testing costs in addition to yearly fees for each animal. A group with a vendetta continues pushing the false information and ignoring the proven threats to Idaho elk, and has gone so far as to claim that current legislation will subsidize the industry at the cost of taxpayers (among many other false statements and accusations).

No part of that claim is or has been true. With articles such as the editorial from Feb. 18, the public’s concern is misplaced by the lack of the whole truth.

Wisconsin’s CWD in its domestic whitetail deer population was proved to have come from the wild sector, in orphaned wild fawns that were given to farms by the state. When it was discovered in domestic herds, no wild animals around the farm tested positive, and the other incident was a false positive. So to compare Wisconsin’s situation to Idaho is far-reaching.

The editorial also failed to mention that Wyoming, with no domestic elk herds, has a big CWD problem. With the cysts and worms being found by hunters in Idaho’s wild deer and elk, people should be quite fearful to pursue and consume it, not venison from animals with a clean, monitored health record.

The echinoccosis being seen in Idaho’s wild elk can infect people … where’s the concern? There is little concern among the public because they are not being informed, but rather told about unsubstantiated and even nonexistent problems. Samples from Idaho harvests have been sent privately to Colorado State University, and guess what, our wild herds are sick. Although largely ignored by our state’s game managers, these problems are real.

CWD is thought by some to transfer between farmed and wild herds — yet with the entire truth this is highly arguable. Research shows that the disease was discovered in 1978 in wild mule deer captured and studied by the state of Colorado. It is the concern of elk ranchers to thwart intermingling due to the fact that we test regularly and thoroughly and have healthy herds; yet wild herds are proving a threat to their domestic counterparts.

There is much to be learned and explained about the entirety of the story rather than the cherry-picked details that create fear and concern that draw readers and those who would then support political agendas at play.

Why does Idaho gamble with its resources by not doing nearly enough to detect and manage disease in the wild? Could it be the desperation is to not look for and find it there but hope it’s found somewhere else so as to pass the blame? The penny-wise/pound-foolish position in this issue lies with the lack of attention to the real threats to Idaho’s elk. A wanting disease testing program for our wild herds is the real gamble nobody can afford.

Miller, of Buhl, is a hunter and president of Idaho Elk Breeders Association.

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