The Idaho Senate voted Tuesday to reject a rule pushed by elk ranches to allow them to import domestic elk from eastern North America.
The problem is meningeal worm, which we called brainworm when I lived in Wisconsin. This worm is carried by elk and deer and is especially hard on moose and wild elk. It also can infect wild sheep, llamas and alpacas.
The Idaho Elk Breeders Association says the import restriction unfairly penalizes domestic elk ranchers while giving a free pass to other livestock species that also carry the parasite. But Cascade veterinarians Olin and Karen Balch say sheep, llamas and alpacas that may carry the disease can't pass it on like wild deer and elk.
So the science is clear, but the politics of the halls of the Capitol are not so clear.
The House Resources and Conservation Committee first voted to kill the rule. Then its chairman, Rep. Ken Andrus, called for another vote without first having a vote on whether to resurrect the issue. That vote went 7-7, which under state law would leave the rule in place because both the Senate and the House must vote to kill a rule.
House leaders said Andrus needs to do it right and he vows to have another vote.
Brainworm kept moose out of Wisconsin when I lived there, even though they were common in Minnesota. Today the moose population has dropped 50 percent and Minnesota has stopped hunting.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore repeatedly warned the Department of Agriculture to stand pat with the import restriction. But the powerful 50 to 60 elk breeders continue to force their will on Idaho policymakers despite the fact that legitimate elk hunting brings more than $300 million into the state economy and sport for thousands of Idahoans.
The breeders already have increased the risk of bringing chronic wasting disease into the state by lowering required testing to only 10 percent of the animals they kill. Unless sportsmen convince their representatives to place the interest of the thousands before the interests of the elk breeders, they may share with all of us the risk of brainworm infection in our wild herds.