CWD sampling

Wyoming Game and Fish Department CWD biologist Aaron Morehead hauls out bags filled with hunter-killed elk heads last fall. The state agency is convening a working group to rewrite a management plan for the disease.

As a 40-year Wyoming resident and hunter, fisherman, biologist and outdoors person, I find myself once again frustrated by our Game and Fish Department, this time because of the chronic wasting disease threat to the animals of our state.

CWD is a deadly disease among elk, deer and moose, and has swept across Wyoming in recent decades. This scourge now kills wildlife in the Cowboy State border to border, north to south, east to west, and has also spread north into Montana.

In a much delayed response decades after wildlife enthusiasts sounded the alarm, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has convened 32 citizens into a CWD Working Group to consider the information and science over a year’s time, and to make recommendations to the department how to minimize the effects of CWD on our world-renowned wildlife populations.

The committee’s recommendations are due in early 2020.

Unfortunately, the department has already impaired the collaborative learning process of this committee by mandating that the group may not consider the effects of this lethal epizootic on elk feedgrounds.

The group is also evidently barred from considering how the elk feedgrounds may amplify the geographic distribution and rates of infection of CWD throughout the elk, deer and moose herds of the multistate Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The 23 elk feedgrounds, including the National Elk Refuge, collectively harbor some 22,000 vulnerable elk each winter and are now being enveloped by the advancing front of this disease.

How does any deliberative body have that “open and transparent exchange” and not discuss elk feedgrounds?

Artificially dense numbers of elk and subsequent infections in Colorado game farms, a Wyoming research facility and Rocky Mountain National Park have shown that high levels of CWD are likely in densely concentrated elk.

Why are these the words and subsequent recommendations that may not be spoken?

Having gone through the significant effort to impanel this group, and requiring the 32 mostly volunteers to travel across the state multiple times and days, what can possibly be the department’s motives for deferring any discussion about or determination for elk feedgrounds to an undetermined future time and group?

I am left to wonder: Is the department waiting to find a cadre of individuals who will arrive at a predetermined outcome that the department has already decided on?

There is also good evidence that healthy predator populations can help to cull CWD-infected animals, sometimes before the disease can be diagnosed or known by us. Will that topic be “off the table for discussion” as well?

No single tool, technique, field study or laboratory research project will solve this issue. We must use the best science available and think outside of old “norms” or this project and our animal populations are doomed from the start.

We can’t afford, nor can our neighbors afford, to waste this opportunity to have an honest, open discussion, including all the relevant high quality information and arriving at comprehensive, multi-faceted short- and long-term solutions.

Wildlife-based tourism is a huge portion of the $3.8 billion travel and tourism industry in Wyoming. How Wyoming deals with this threat to our wildlife will also impact the adjacent states of Montana and Idaho, their wildlife and their economies.

The consequences of not bringing to bear all the available information and tools to mitigate the effects of CWD are grave indeed. Elk feedgrounds must be part of the discussion and recommendations of this committee.

Don’t handcuff the CWD Working Group before it even gets started.

Hunter and medical professional Chuck Harris has lived in the valley for four decades. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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