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End Game Ranching -- Immediately

March 24, 2002 The Sunday Oregonian by Bill Monroe
The warnings couldn't be more clear -- if we'll just pay attention:

A) You shouldn't farm elk in elk country and, if you do,

B) You shouldn't wait two years to end it.

During a business trip last weekend, I used the time between flights, delays and shuttles to read what others left behind.

. . . Chronic wasting, that's what. And I don't mean un-recycled newspapers. The story in last Sunday's Oregonian about killing elk on a Colorado ranch because of chronic wasting disease was also prominent in the tattered remains of the Miami Herald, stuffed into a seat pocket on a United Airlines flight.

A Wall Street Journal discarded in the Denver airport terminal discussed in detail the spread of chronic wasting -- chillingly compared to mad cow disease in Britain and Japan -- and infection of up to 15 percent of some deer in adjoining corners of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska.

No, it's not in Oregon, but the Journal noted that it has jumped the Mississippi River into Wisconsin's wild deer.

Next door in Michigan, recall, tuberculosis is loose in whitetails across the northern tier of counties and hunters are offered a free disease analysis of their meat.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried a wire story quoting wildlife officials in Virginia so concerned about the potential for chronic wasting in any elk -- farmed or wild -- that they have canceled plans to reintroduce them in that state's Appalachian Mountains.

They might even shoot strays from Kentucky. Kentucky got Oregon elk as recently as two years ago. Wonder if they'd take more now that TB has been reported on a game ranch?

Depressed, I opened a magazine, "Bugle," published by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and featuring catchy recipes for elk lips and tongue.

. . . And an ominous warning from the Saskatchewan, Canada, Wildlife Federation about rampant disease problems in that province's farmed -- and shipped -- elk.

. . . And another story about Colorado's chronic wasting problems, citing possible links to elk farms in New Mexico and Idaho. Newspapers also mentioned Pennsylvania.

The problems were predicted, but objections faded as the industry flourished and invisibly infected animals crossed invisible boundaries.

Don't hand me the spurious contention that government agricultural officials have safeguards in place. They have proven quite well their ability to track, but not prevent, disease.

Don't tell me TB in one Oregon elk isn't an epidemic or even of as much concern as the as-yet absent chronic wasting. Tell the biologists who are gritting their teeth and choking back tears as they gun down their own infected wild herds because lead and powder are the only effective vaccines.

Or that TB and chronic wasting are apples and oranges. If one can spread, so can the other.

And, although it's necessary and well-intentioned, I don't even want to hear that a citizen's committee has to gear up for a general election two years away to enact an initiative petition banning game ranching in Oregon as voters did in Montana.

State officials said at an information meeting recently that the governor has legislative authority to act immediately for other specific and more dangerous livestock disease outbreaks.

How much louder do the warnings need to be?

Even I heard them above all those jet engines. You can reach Bill Monroe at 503-221-8231 or at bill- monroe@news.oregonian.com

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