November 15, 2018

Politics May Cause Focus on CWD Spread to be in the Wrong Places

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Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in deer in Ontario Province in Canada. Some in Maine and other New England states have taken up a panic or semi-panic mode while saying and doing stupid things. One thing is for sure. Few of us know anything about the disease…even those pretending to be an authority.

As with most things like diseases that are serious, why does it seem the focus is placed on the wrong aspect of the problem? It seems an American thing to avoid the real issue and place the focus on emotional and political BS. We see this in discussions about AIDS and the Second Amendment. With AIDS, instead of addressing the immoral lifestyles that most greatly contribute to the spread of the disease, we only focus on a cure in order to permit the perpetuation of homosexuality.

In speaking of guns, Americans almost never focus on the real issue of what causes a person to resort to violent behavior that is deadly to other humans. So much effort is placed on ensuring that law-abiding citizens have their right to choose how to protect themselves taken away.

And now we see Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) sneaking up on us. Many admit that scientists don’t fully understand the disease. They have a better sense of the end result – almost – than the cause and the spread.

As is typical, with diseases such as CWD, brucellosis, Echinococcus granulosis, Neospora caninum, etc., where both wild and domestic animals can become infected and infectious, often the blame, if you will, is placed on captive animal facilities as being the culprits in the growth and spread of these diseases to the wild population of the same animals. This has never been proven as fact and is next to impossible to do so. To state otherwise is dishonest.

In an article I read in the Berkshire Eagle of Massachusetts, it was written that: “If you have regulatory authority over captive farms you could require really high fences, double fences and require tags on your deer.”

Part of the argument being expressed here is that an agriculture department will not be strict enough in regulating captive cervids and that authority should be given to fish and wildlife agencies. There is serious political corruption that exists within both departments that we should never consider one government agency as being better at regulating than another. History has shown us that fish and wildlife agencies can be just as corrupt in their wielding of authority for political reasons as any agriculture department.

By directing the focus of the problem on captive cervid ranches, we may be doing ourselves a real disservice when it comes to serious efforts to understand this disease, for without the right knowledge proper control if there is such a thing, is impossible.

For those who don’t know, I will tell you that captive cervid ranchers would put up “high fences” and “double fences” if they could afford it in order to protect their herds from the spread of disease from outside into the ranch. It’s been several years now since I last spent a great deal of time learning about elk and deer ranching, but the last time I recall discussing double fencing the cost ranged somewhere around $1 million a mile. The argument for high and double fencing is to prevent any kind of contact between captive animals and wild ones.

It is sometimes lost in these emotional discussions that ranchers absolutely do not want any disease in their herds. It’s stupid to think differently. CWD within a herd of captive elk or deer would put the rancher out of business.

Because some choose to believe that diseases like CWD originate within the fences and is spread beyond the fences through contact with other animals outside the fences, they fail to understand that it can just as easily happen in the reverse. There was a time when in areas where CWD occurs, no instances of CWD had been detected in captive cervids. That should tell us something. It seems the real issue is in regulating the import and export of captive cervids, especially across state lines.

I visited domestic elk ranches in the West a few years back and was impressed with how conscientious they were about every aspect of their business, including the threat of disease. Again I say, any serious disease will destroy that business and none of them want it.

The author of the article linked to does a pretty good job explaining to readers about how easily and quickly CWD can spread in the wild. He writes: “Deer disperse out, and in studies they have found 75 percent of yearling males will disperse from two miles on up from where they were born. Stainbrook cited that one yearling disperser in Pennsylvania, which had a GPS collar on it went over 90 miles. This could be a major contributor to how CWD can spread across the landscape. There are ongoing studies to try to determine the average distance that deer will disperse. If the average males travel four or five miles, one can estimate after 10 years how far CWD has been spread.”

Captive deer are captive, enclosed behind fences, and unable to “disperse.” It, therefore, makes a bit of sense that they are less likely to be the chief culprit in the spread of the disease. Any agriculture business needs to be responsible for disease spread and for the most part, I think that is the case. We can do many things to reduce the risk of the spread of disease, or at least perhaps slow it down, but short of a cure, there is little hope of completely stopping it. Ensuring that we keep our focus on the problem in the right places, prioritizing them from a scientific position rather than a political one will go a long way in addressing a serious disease spread.