Wednesday, April 2, 2014

State is putting elk, hunting at risk


    House Bill 431’s becoming law is another milestone in elk breeders’ legislative campaigns and gives Idaho another “worst and last.”
    Idaho’s chronic wasting disease preventions are now the lowest of neighboring states and provinces. Elected officials have wagered wild deer and elk pursued by over 200,000 hunters to save 60 or so elk ranchers about $20,000 in annual costs. The near party-line vote and governor’s signature strips the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s science-based testing from 100 percent of dead animals to 10 percent of the rancher’s choice. ISDA will inspect farms at five-year intervals rather than annually.    
    Chronic wasting disease is to deer and elk what mad cow disease is to humans. Contagious, incurable and fatal, spread from penned to wild deer and elk in 22 states and two provinces. Its effects make wolves a side issue. The disease spreads via animals and soil and is taken up by plants. Nebraska’s website explains, “CWD has been spread to many captive herds across North America by … transfer of CWD-infected animals.”  
    Hunting rights in Idaho’s constitution are meaningless if wild venison is unsafe for families to eat. During his 2006 campaign, now-Gov. Butch Otter called for dramatic new controls to protect the wild herds and increase public confidence and trust in the elk operations. The region’s weakest chronic wasting disease safety net indicates “Idaho values” place public interest and wildlife well below agriculture.  
    The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation recognized that H431 played Russian roulette with public wildlife, alerting its 7,000 Idaho members that “seeking to lower testing and inspection regulations for CWD [is] a threat to the health of Idaho’s wild, free-ranging elk herds.” The Idaho Sportsmens Caucus Advisory Council ( shares the general public’s view that elk-shooting operations “are not hunts in any sense … the shooting of elk while inside escape-proof fenced enclosures is not only unethical and adverse to our hunting heritage but presents a grave danger to wild and free-ranging elk populations.” In 2006, both Gov. Jim Risch and gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady recommended banning shooter ranches because of their well-documented risks and problems.  
    Idaho’s cervid industry doesn’t pay its way.  ISDA’s 2013 report states: “… the cervidae program has consistently experienced annual budget deficits. In response … program operations were discontinued on April 7.” Simply put, elk ranchers went unregulated last year despite public funding and disease risks. In 2013, $22,363 from elk license plates also subsidized ISDA oversight.  
    A 2011 report concluded that 106 ranch elk escaped to the wild, scores “found dead” went untested, rule violations happened without agency interdiction, and a bull from a CWD-infested Colorado farm simply vanished on an Idaho farm. Less than 10 shooter operations incurred nearly all rule violations.  ISDA Caine Veterinary Center’s failure to have 2005 CWD test records on several “wasting away” elk it received from the shooting farm with the CWD contact bull suggests a state blind eye to inconvenient facts.  
    Wisconsin’s 2006 CWD audit showed agencies spent $32.3 million, employed 58 staffers and paid snipers to shoot wild deer. Its digester processed 370,768 pounds of contaminated venison and hunters waited two months for test results before eating theirs. Wisconsin taxpayers will pay millions more dealing with CWD in future decades.     
    Why is Idaho risking cherished wildlife, outdoor tourism and great state expense for a small troubled industry that resists $23 tests on tame animals shot for $1,500 to $10,000 and guts science-based CWD protections of our public interest?

John Caywood lives in Boise.

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