Forget the ducks – take a look at game ranching

From the start I was bemused by the story about the 500 dead ducks found in the Syncrude tailings ponds at Fort McMurray and remain so now that it has morphed into an international alleged Duckergate-style cover-up story that the real number of dead ducks is 1,600, maybe more, in what is really a tailings lake . . . nay . . . ocean, etc. etc.

From the start I was bemused by the story about the 500 dead ducks found in the Syncrude tailings ponds at Fort McMurray and remain so now that it has morphed into an international alleged Duckergate-style cover-up story that the real number of dead ducks is 1,600, maybe more, in what is really a tailings lake . . . nay . . . ocean, etc. etc.

Not that I mean to diminish this atrocity and the need to deal with the problem, but there are people who know what they are talking about who insist we have too many of most waterfowl species, mainly because too few people are hunting them.

My old profession, law, has an adage — De minimis non curat lex — “the law takes no account of trifles,” and always strives to focus on substantial issues.

Today’s self-professed environmentalists seem quite otherwise, happily blasting away at small and simple “sound bite” targets while ignoring huge, complex issues for us and the wildlife we all profess to love.

For example, most environmentalists — and the media — have largely ignored the relentless, steady spread of the always-fatal Chronic Wasting Disease among the wild deer and elk populations of North America.

In Alberta, the media and environmentalists have largely ignored the story of the countless thousands of “innocent” deer killed by government helicopter strafing in East Central Alberta over the last three years in a futile effort to halt the spread of CWD into Alberta from Saskatchewan.

Many North American experts on CWD now believe that massive culls amount to doing nothing, unless you kill every last animal and prevent more from moving in, then wipe out the source of the animals infected by the prions that cause the always-fatal disease, long and tall orders.

Indeed, since the government announced the end of its deer holocaust late last year, it has now reported that eight new cases of CWD were found from the 4,347 heads that have been tested since Sept. 1, one white tail and seven mule deer, and that two of them came from Canadian Forces Base Wainwright, the farthest west the disease has been detected from wild deer in Alberta.

The suspicion of many experts is that before long a CWD-infected animal will be found in Manitoba which had the good sense and guts to outlaw game ranching several years ago.

A large majority of North American experts now believe that a federal initiative is required to end movement of and traffic in farmed and ranched deer and elk, in other words, that game ranching must be end if CWD is ever to be eradicated, or at least controlled.

Recently the CWD plot has thickened and become scary with news of a Kentucky study that has found the CWD-causing prions in Elk antler velvet, the substance which game ranchers push as an alleged remedy to the impotent of the orient.

If that market totally disappears, pressure will mount on an Alberta government widely rumoured to have been “discussing” ending game ranching.

Sure enough, and instead, the Alberta government is now considering the lobbying of game ranchers for the legalization of canned hunts of penned “trophy” animals: Premier Klein ended all debate on that subject back in 2002, saying he found the concept “abhorrent.”

It still is, even more so, as we know more about CWD and the role of game farms as centres of infection and the movement of game farmed animals in the spread of the infection.

New AFGA president, Quentin Bochar, says “this is an outrage, if the government is going behind everyone’s back to bail out a few individuals who made bad business decisions in the first place when they got into game farming,” and concludes the government should simply do the right thing and end game ranching as many other jurisdictions are doing.

Game ranching came to Alberta because it was promoted and legalized by our government, despite the warnings of distinguished and respected scientists that closely confining wildlife was not only morally wrong, but it would lead to serious disease problems.

But money drives everything in Alberta and we forged ahead with what was essentially a pyramid scheme in which alleged government insiders got in early and allegedly made big bucks, leaving the latecomers holding the bag.

Now the surviving but distressed Alberta game ranchers are once again begging to add disaster to an already dirty business and be allowed to peddle their hormone-hopped big trophy animals at ten grand or so a pop to the wealthy few who like to think of themselves as hunters to execute in close, fenced quarters.

To permit that, instead of outlawing game ranching, period, and bailing out the victim ranchers, would be like a government saying “yes, the drug trade does cause some big problems, but it sure injects big bucks into the economy.”

Meanwhile, that faint quacking you hear is the sound of our minimalist conservationists as they watch for more dead ducks to surface in those Fort McMurray tailings ponds.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning outdoors writer living in Red Deer.

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