September 24, 2020

Fanning The Flames

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Rex Rammell’s elk aren’t pure!! Or maybe they are and who cares?

Rex Rammell lost an undetermined number of elk that escaped his ranch last August. Some, we’re not exactly sure how many, got shot by officials and hunters designated by the Governor. Wild stocks of elk got killed as well, having got caught in the crossfire of semi-panic to stop a wildly perceived out-of-control freight train.

Regardless of how many elk got out, all those that did and got killed, along with the wild elk that got shot, got tested for disease and genetic purity. All tests showed disease free animals, although some of the wild elk showed large liver flukes in them. All animals also tested pure for genetics with the exception of one animal.

Bill Schneider from New West, who has covered this story, began yesterday with a story that seemed to be fanning the flames with misinformation that has gotten the population of Idaho in a frenzy over wanting to ban elk farming.

I contacted Wayne Hoffman at the Idaho Department of Agriculture, the agency in charge of the testing (not the Fish and Game Department as many believe). “As I understand it, all disease testing came back negative,” Hoffman explained. “We do have three genetic tests that are inconclusive and are being retested.”

That’s another scary word, “inconclusive,” so I called Hoffman this morning, and he confirmed that three samples came back positive for red deer. Thinking these could be false positives, his department decided to re-test these three samples, and it will be another week at least before they come back.

Hoffman did not seem concerned about a few red deer genes showing up in the tests, speculating that the tests might be inaccurate. “It’s my understanding that these false positives happen,” he said.

So, should we be alarmed that three of 36 tests came back showing that somewhere in the past these elk piced up some red deer genes? Or is this good enough to put the fear behind us?

In fairness to Schneider, he has since amended his story to include updates.

Footnote: After I posted this article earlier today, Wayne Hoffman called to give me more information on what “inconclusive” meant and why his department wasn’t as concerned as some people might think they should be.

He explained that it’s standard policy for all domestic elk imported into the state, including Rammell’s elk, to be tested for genetic purity before they’re allowed in the state. “We have certificates showing that these elk were tested for red deer impurities,” Hoffman notes. “That’s why we aren’t that excited (about the three red deer positives) because we’ve already tested these elk before they escaped. We already have evidence that they are pure Rocky Mountain elk so that makes the tests inconclusive. We have two competing test results, and they both can’t be true.”

I asked what might happen if the re-tests also showed positive for red deer, and Hoffman said right now they wanted to deal with one thing at a time.

I guess there would be two obvious answers: Either Rammell had some elk that weren’t tested and imported legally or the original tests were incorrect. Stay tuned.

Footnote No. 2: I talked to Wayne Hoffman again, and he has just now learned that the three positive tests for red deer markers came from the same elk. The testing process requires three samples for each elk, and in this case, two out of the three samples, from the same elk, came back positive and are being re-tested. Earlier in this article, it was assumed that three positive tests meant three elk, but not so. Only one elk. Stay tuned.

Somehow there still seems to be a hint of hopefulness that the one test will prove positive for red deer. Then what? Will this make a better story? Will this further the cause of those who think elk farming in Idaho should be stopped?

People need to know the facts but sometimes the truth isn’t what makes good stories. The fact is that if a genetically pure (whatever that is) Yellowstone elk crossbred with a red deer or even an elk hybrid, it wouldn’t doom the elk species in America. It is also fact that the elk or wapiti and the red deer are closely related but are different and in situations where both animals are near each other in captivity, crossbreeding happens. It is undetermined whether the red deer and the elk would mate under completely natural settings. That doesn’t mean we should force the issue nor does it mean that the end of the world will come if it happens. I believe that the issue of crossbreeding in this case is overblown and insignificant in any argument to ban elk farming.

I find it ironic that many who are fearful of the consequences of crossbreeding pure elk with a hybrid, think nothing of crossbreeding other species and subspecies in order to create a hybrid that would generate state income by selling hunting and fishing licenses. What hypocrisy!

It really doesn’t matter what the retest of the one elk shows, it is insignificant. Fortunately, none of the animals tested showed positive for any disease. But this isn’t reason to ban an agricultural industry. Make improvements? Yes, by all means but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and let’s separate the issue of hunting ethics and agriculture. These are two completely different issues.

*Previous Posts*

Idaho’s Escaped Elk Test Negative – Elk Ranchers Face Banning Advocates
Idaho Governor Calls Off Elk Depredation Hunt…..Sort Of
In Response To Malnourished Elk
Rex Rammell’s Letter To The Editor
Has Government Gone Too Far? More Escaped Elk Shot
What Do Malnurished Elk Look Like?
Idaho Elk Breeders Association Opens New Website
Bull Elk Shot Inside Rex Rammell’s Ranch
Wyoming Governor Asks Idaho Governor To Ban Game Farms
Escaped Idaho Elk Shot In Wyoming
Rex Rammell Arrested
Governor Jim Risch Defends His Decision To Shoot Escaped Elk
Idaho Gubernatorial Candidates Have A Say About Elk Farming
Rammell For Governor, Ranch Sold, Elk Still Being Hunted
Wyoming Governor Freudenthal Says Interior Department Not Doing Enough About Escaped ElkIdaho’s Escaped Elk Now Getting National Attention
Idaho Elk Farmer Says All His Elk Accounted For
Idaho Governor Expands Hunt For Escaped Elk
More Elk Killed In Idaho – Some By Hunters
Idaho Elk Farmer Plans To Sue The State
Scientists Will Test Killed Idaho Elk For Disease And Genetic Make-up
A Helicopter, A Plane And 25 Agents Can’t Find 160 Domestic Elk
Escaped Idaho Elk Being Slaughtered. Wyoming Ordered To Kill Elk Also
Domestic Elk Crash The Gate – Escape!

Tom Remington

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