October 31, 2004 in Region

Rules sought to slow spread of wasting disease

Associated Press
 

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission should regulate hunters’ movement of elk and deer carcasses to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a Jackson hunter said.

Limiting spread of the fatal brain-wasting disease is vital to protecting northwest Wyoming’s 23 elk feedgrounds, according to Shane Moore, a wildlife filmmaker and hunter.

“They’re doing the absolute minimum at every turn,” he said. “It’s ironic because Wyoming, with the feedgrounds, has the most at stake.”

He said his work within the Game and Fish Department to step up its response to the ailment has failed, so he’s taking his case to the commission, which oversees the department.

Moore will speak before the commission at a meeting Friday in Torrington.

In particular, he has been lobbying the department to adopt regulations which would prohibit hunters from transporting potentially infectious tissues to other parts of the state where chronic wasting disease is not known to exist.

He contends it is a matter of when, not if, the disease reaches the feedgrounds. If wildlife managers can keep the malady at bay long enough, science may provide more answers about how to combat the disease once it arrives, Moore said.

While chronic wasting disease spreads slowly among elk in the wild, experts have raised concerns that it could move more rapidly among elk at the state-managed feedgrounds because of the artificially high numbers in one place.

Moore decided to work on the issue after the disease turned up in a deer near Worland, about 150 miles from Jackson Hole. Born on a ranch in Bondurant, Moore earned a degree in wildlife biology at the University of Montana.

He claims Wyoming has not done as much as other states to control chronic wasting disease.

So far, Game and Fish has adopted voluntary guidelines asking hunters to properly dispose of carcasses. The agency asks hunters to leave the head, spine and nervous tissue, which may contain the disease agent, at the kill site or an approved landfill. The agency has budgeted about $16,000 to educate hunters about the guidelines this fall.

Moore wants the commission to make the guidelines mandatory. Fifteen states and two Canadian provinces have already adopted such regulations, he said.

Game and Fish Deputy Director Gregg Arthur said an internal agency committee recommended only voluntary guidelines to keep them from becoming too “onerous.” Otherwise, hunters may stop taking animals in areas where the disease is known to exist.

Culling animals is one way to limit spread of the ailment, he said.

Arthur said he is waiting for chronic wasting disease recommendations from the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which are due out this year. Those recommendations could change Game and Fish’s position, he said.

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