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Dangers of Game Farming Put It at Forefront on CWD Scourge

June 8, 2002 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) by Gary Holmquist
Colorado residents wait in horror at the prospect of slaughtering thousands of wild elk and deer because of chronic wasting disease. Communities with hunting-based economies are scared there'll be no fall hunts and state officials are scrambling to implement some sort of disaster control plan. CWD is spreading across North America and game farms are at the forefront.

For decades, North America's leading wildlife biologists, scientists, conservationists and resource economists have warned us about the perils of game farming. They consistently warned that every effort to domesticate wildlife has given rise to disease, parasites, genetic pollution, loss of habitat, and poaching problems that are virtually impossible to control or contain. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department's comprehensive analysis in 1990 proved, overwhelmingly, that these problems were inevitable. In June 2001, a WGF official in a sworn statement declared: "The issues of game farmed animals escaping into the wild, the spread of disease via escapes or movement of animals in commerce, competition between native and exotic wildlife, the potential for hybridization and genetic pollution, the possibility of theft of public wildlife and an increase in poaching activity as a result of putting monetary value on dead wildlife, and the damage penned shoots would have on the public's perception of sport hunting as a legitimate tool of wildlife management were issues that we thought made game farming an unacceptable risk to Wyoming's wildlife treasure. Events since 1990 have confirmed that the issues we raised in 1990 were real and reaffirmed the wisdom of the Commission's decision to completely deny the applications."

Resource economists find a similar picture.

According to the 2001 National Survey of Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Recreation, "wildlife economies" generate $110 billion annually in the United States every year . . . 1.1 percent of our nation's GDP.

By contrast, economic analysis shows that game farming is neither viable nor sustainable.

The Canadian Business Magazine (Feb. 18) recently highlighted one such study conducted in the Yukon. The study concluded that the market for elk meat would not even justify the construction of slaughter facilities, and that the velvet antler market is too volatile and cannot be counted on. It predicted that live animal sales would fall - to just above carcass value, and that "As a self-sustaining economic venture, elk would show virtually no return on capital investment, and no labor return."

Like Wyoming's analysis, the projections have proven very accurate; we are now suffering biological and economic consequences of this foolish endeavor.

States are desperately closing their borders or placing other limiting restrictions on the importation of domesticated elk. South Korea has banned North American elk products. The venison market . . . well, there is no market, despite years of effort and resources spent trying to develop it. Finally, the breeding market has saturated and has collapsed. The real kicker is the costs associated with the attempts to eradicate CWD and other disease have soared into the hundreds of millions . . . all paid by taxpayers!

The game farm industry asks us to abandon basic wildlife principles. They want us to ignore the warning signs brought to light by scientists and economists who predicted these disasters. They would have us ignore the resource economists who showed that the industry wasn't viable and warned of the threats to our living wildlife economies.

In the words of Darrell Rowledge, director of the Alliance for Public Wildlife: "By any measure, game farming is nothing less than a biological quagmire and a pit of pyramid economics. It is a deficit mine - the deeper we get into it, the more it costs."

Maybe Colorado should follow Montana's lead. Because our legislature ignored our concerns, we formed a grass-roots citizens' action group whose mission was to protect the health and safety of our wildlife and our fair chase-hunting heritage by reforming the existing game farm laws. The initiative banned the practice of penned shooting, halted the issuance of new game farm licenses and prevents the transfer or sale of existing ones. The industry was concerned with their "bottom line" while we were concerned with the future. Montanans passed it!

Did Montanans take enough action soon enough? Given the CWD catastrophe spreading across Colorado, we hope so. We can say we acted none too soon.

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