Game Farms Bane Of Wildlife

May 8, 2002 Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO) by Ed Dentry
Picture, if you can, someone paying $20,000 to shoot "alternative livestock" over the pasture fence, and you have pictured a bottom feeder - a pretender to the national hunting heritage, an abomination.

The spirit of the wild is not in him. Nor is it in those who procure "alternative livestock" and profit from his trophy lust. Nor is it in any state that violates one of the oldest precepts of U.S. law: Wildlife belongs to no one, but to everyone. As citizens and owners of wildlife, you may eat elk or deer if you buy a hunting license, wear blaze orange, hunt during the legal season, obey all hunting regulations and learn something about the nature of your quarry and the landscape it lives in.

Bag it yourself and be gratified knowing that your legal activity, and no state tax money, has helped pay for wildlife programs. You also may eat elk or deer if a licensed hunter gives you some. But the law says you must not sell it.

Unless it first has been converted to a state-endorsed euphemism.

At game farms in Colorado and several other states, bottom feeders routinely shoot "alternative livestock" for trophies, with no legal obligation save the passing of check or credit card to a game farmer.

No hunting license or messy hunting regulations. No scouting; all the "hunter" needs to know is how much his elegantly antlered quarry costs and that it is standing fenced in the lower 40. Not a penny of his transaction feeds wildlife programs.

For decades, Colorado has led the nation in numbers of wild elk and legitimate elk hunters. The atrocity of shooting selectively bred, grain-fed elk and deer was an undercurrent, barely noticed by ethical hunters, while all along it was the financial bedrock of several Colorado game farms.

Now those game farms are being blamed for the spread of chronic wasting disease, which imperils the state's natural elk and deer herds. Although the incidence of CWD is low, its spread is beginning to erode hunter confidence. In Colorado, that hunter confidence drives a big-game tourism economy worth at least $1 billion every year.

First, the euphemism "alternative livestock" took wildlife from the people and appropriated it for private profit. Then it smeared hunting's image with canned shoots. Now it spreads disease.

By now there should be no doubt that game farms, not natural migrations of wildlife, have spread chronic wasting disease. Deer and elk don't migrate from CWD's "endemic" area in northeast Colorado to Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Alberta and Saskatchewan without the help of livestock trucks.

Over the years, Colorado game farms have imposed other injuries, from rampant stealing of wild elk in the 1980s and early 1990s to genetic pollution from European red deer (outlawed in 1992) and bovine tuberculosis.

In 1972, Wyoming was the first western state to fathom the danger "alternative livestock" posed to its wildlife and hunting heritage. It outlawed game farms, except for one that was grandfathered in.

In 1995 the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, one of the world's most effective and respected conservation organizations, also saw the threat. Its position statement: "The RMEF believes raising captive elk, red deer and other cervids on private game farms in states with wild, free-ranging elk populations poses serious risks to the health and viability of wild elk herds . . ."

But while the world was waking to the threats of game farms, Colorado's rancher-friendly legislature went in the opposite direction. In 1994, it stripped regulatory authority over game farms from wildlife managers and handed it over to the state agriculture commission. Since then, chronic wasting disease has spread to the San Luis Valley, North Park and northwest Colorado and threatens the state's hunting economy.

As if Colorado weren't embarrassed enough to be national poster child for whirling disease in trout, it now is the national poster child for chronic wasting disease. WD and CWD are us.

Another state, Montana, has been unable to rid itself of game farms. But in 2000 its voters passed an initiative that will phase them out. Most important, the Montana initiative also bans paid shooting of captive big-game animals.

At least someone has seen fit to stop the outrage.

NOTES: Contact Ed Dentry at (303) 892-5481 or

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