Game ranchers are to blame for spread of disease

Frank Kuhnen’s letter in the June 13 issue of the Advocate was the second from the elk farming community concerning the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Alberta’s wild deer and like the first, it attempts to absolve the elk and deer farmers of all responsibility for this increasing disaster for our wildlife.

Frank Kuhnen’s letter in the June 13 issue of the Advocate was the second from the elk farming community concerning the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Alberta’s wild deer and like the first, it attempts to absolve the elk and deer farmers of all responsibility for this increasing disaster for our wildlife.

CWD was first identified in captive deer in Colorado in 1967. In the next few years, it was found in captive deer and elk in several states and Canadian provinces before being transmitted to wild deer and elk, first in Colorado, and then in other states that had also introduced elk and deer farming.

CWD was first identified in a wild deer in Canada in 2000. An elk imported from South Dakota to a farm in Saskatchewan was diagnosed with CWD that year. The elk herd was destroyed but shortly thereafter the disease was found in a wild mule deer just outside that farm.

A deer cull identified other infected wild deer in the area but the disease was not controlled and gradually spread to other regions of Saskatchewan before crossing into Alberta in 2005.

The Alberta government introduced several programs, including severe culls along the Saskatchewan boundary, to try to stop the spread of CWD in our wild deer population. There has been some beneficial effect, but it continues to slowly edge deeper into our province.

Should we care? Yes! CWD is related to scrapie in sheep, BSE (mad-cow disease) in cattle and Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease in humans.

Although CWD has not yet been identified as the source of disease in humans, the World Health Organization recommends that people avoid contact with or consumption of any animals infected with this class of disease.

Are the elk and deer ranchers to blame? Of course they are.

Elk farming introduced CWD to Canada’s wild deer in Saskatchewan. From there, it is spreading and will soon be endemic in wild deer, elk and moose throughout the Prairies.

Not only is there an unknown health risk to humans but we might lose these animals entirely in the wild. Well done, game ranchers!

Environmentalists and conservationists, in particular those in the Fish and Game Associations in the Prairie provinces, fought determinedly to try to block the introduction of native deer and elk farming because it seemed inevitable that it would lead to the introduction of diseases to our wild animal herds.

The conservationists largely failed in those arguments but they were right, unfortunately. Also unfortunately, the game farms along with their other future risks remain. Moreover, I have heard that Alberta will be curtailing its efforts to eliminate or at least slow down the spread of CWD.

The cabinet’s prioritizing of spending put the needs of the environment, wildlife and perhaps even our health, behind the government’s desire to protect and retain the unwarranted 34 per cent pay hike they gave themselves last year, I guess. Even less well done, Alberta government!

The government allowed game farms and now it has put its own personal greed ahead of the battle to control the resulting problems.

Fred Brittain

Red Deer

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