The Coming Plague: Chronic Wasting Disease, Cousin to Mad Cow, Is Bearing Down On Yellowstone National Park and America’s Most Famous Elk Herd

https://thebullseye.media/coming-plague-chronic-wasting-disease-cousin-mad-cow-bearing-yellowstone-national-park-americas-famous-elk-herd/

43 minutes (10859 words)

Senior Biologist With National Elk Refuge Says Deadly Pathogen’s Arrival In Greater Yellowstone Wildlife “Inevitable” and “Could Occur At Any Time”

State Senator In Montana Calls For Joint Resolution In Legislature To Condemn Wyoming’s Feeding Of Elk

By Todd Wilkinson

On a map, “Deer Hunt Area 17” is unlikely to ring any bells of recognition, even for most residents in the hunting-crazed Equality State. Located northwest of Gillette in the Powder River Basin—a sweep of mostly treeless geography best known as the largest coal-producing region in America—Hunt Area 17 on Monday, December 19, 2016 became one of the latest in Wyoming to have publicly-confirmed cases of Chronic Wasting Disease.

“If you see a deer, elk or moose that appears to be sick or not acting in a normal manner, please contact your local game warden, wildlife biologist or Game and Fish office immediately,” Scott Edberg, deputy chief of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s wildlife division said in a press release. Game and Fish further added, “The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend that people should not eat deer, elk or moose that test positive for CWD.”

CWD strikes members of the cervid (deer) family. Along with animals that test positive—a determination made most often after they are dead—some people won’t even eat big game animals coming out of an area that has been deemed “CWD endemic”; the endemic zone means a part of landscape where CWD is now believed to be present but where it was previously absent.  Today, the endemic zone covers nearly the entire state, save for a puzzle piece of Wyoming that is the most visited by tourists and globally renowned for its “wild” nature.

CWD has been described by epizoologists as “a slow-motion wildlife disaster” in the making; it involves an exotic plague—a cousin to dreaded “Mad Cow Disease— that, true to its name, “chronically” festers at first in wildlife populations and spreads between animals in dribbles and drabs, taking years to assert full impact. By many indications, the prevalence of CWD in the northern Rockies appears to be picking up speed.

An incurable, contagious, and always-fatal malady for deer family members, causing victims to become emaciated and turning their brains essentially to mush, CWD is now spreading inexorably across Wyoming, though it was first identified in the southeastern corner of the state decades ago. Today, the highest prevalence of CWD in mule deer there ranges between 20 and 40 percent in some hotspots. Most animals with CWD die within two years.  It is more common in bucks than does and prevalence oscillates differently though deer and elk herds. There are no vaccines for stopping CWD or medicine therapies that can be dispensed to hosts having it.

The exact origin of CWD is inexact and a matter of speculation. Some believe it is related to scrapie which afflicted domestic sheep and then jumped species.  Scrapie has been in European sheep for 300 years.  In 1967, CWD was identified in captive deer kept at a research facility near Fort Collins, Colorado and then it spread to wild elk and deer.

No cases of CWD in the wild have been diagnosed in Montana and Idaho yet; however, with regard to Montana, the disease is poised to cross its shared border with Wyoming and it is pressing southward in wildlife from two Canadian provinces, Alberta and Saskatchewan. (see map, below)

More: https://thebullseye.media/coming-plague-chronic-wasting-disease-cousin-mad-cow-bearing-yellowstone-national-park-americas-famous-elk-herd/

Brutal Northwest winter has been horrific for wild animals

Antelope injured while falling on ice. Horses stranded in snowy mountains. Cougars descending from their wilderness lairs to forage in a town.

It’s been a beastly winter in the American West, not just for people but for animals too. One storm after another has buried much of the region in snow, and temperatures have often stayed below freezing, endangering a rich diversity of wild animals.

In southern Idaho, about 500 pronghorn antelope tried to cross the frozen Snake River earlier this month at Lake Walcott, but part of the herd spooked and ran onto a slick spot where they slipped and fell. Idaho Fish and Game workers rescued six of the stranded pronghorn, but 10 were killed by coyotes and 20 had to be euthanized because of injuries suffered when they fell down.

Another 50 pronghorn were found dead in the small western Idaho city of Payette after they nibbled on Japanese yew, a landscaping shrub that’s toxic. Tough winter conditions have forced some wildlife to feed on the plant in urban areas.

Heavy snow has forced Idaho’s fish and game department to begin emergency feeding of big game animals in southern Idaho.

In eastern Oregon, state wildlife officials are feeding elk, but the weather makes accessing them difficult. When highways and the Interstate are closed because of the snow, the workers must still get to the rural feeding stations where they feed the elk alfalfa hay.

“When you run feed programs, you can’t take a day off because of bad weather. If you take a day off, the elk wander away,” said Nick Myatt, district manager of La Grande office of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Wandering elk tend to feed on haystacks that ranchers have left for their cattle, and congregate in low-elevation sites along Interstate 84 in northeastern Oregon, where cars have hit them in recent weeks, Myatt said.

In western Wyoming, supplemental feeding of elk wintering on the National Elk Refuge near Jackson started the first week of January, three weeks earlier than usual because heavier than normal snowfall buried the natural forage the thousands of elk graze on at the 24,700-acre refuge.

Mule deer, which are smaller than elk, have not only been prevented by a layer of ice from pawing through powdery snow to reach their natural forage, but that ice also makes them easier prey. The deer break through the ice and stumble while animals like coyotes can stay on top of the surface.

“With conditions that we have, we do anticipate higher mule deer mortality,” Myatt said.

John Stephenson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said wolves are also more agile in deep snow than deer or elk because their lighter bodies and big feet help them stay on the surface better. Stephenson said he is amazed that a wolf he’s tracking south of Crater Lake, Oregon, traveled roughly 30 miles through 6-foot-deep snow in less than 12 hours recently.

Some animal lovers have been taking matters into their own hands by feeding deer, but experts warn they will likely do more harm than good and could end up killing the animals.

“What they’re feeding the deer is an improper diet,” said Rick Hargrave, a spokesman for the Oregon wildlife department. “They have a complex digestive tract, and they require the right mix of crude protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.”

The deep snow likely caused a group of normally elusive cougars to come to the woodsy community of La Pine in recent days, where they preyed on pets and chickens, the Oregon wildlife department said. Authorities on Thursday killed a fifth cougar in the central Oregon town. Four others were shot dead on Saturday and Monday, raising an outcry among some conservationists.

Amid the grim news, there were some bright spots.

In central Idaho, volunteers earlier this month rescued a horse stranded on a snowy mountain by tranquilizing it, placing it in a sling and then attaching it on a long line to a helicopter. It was flown, dangling from the belly of the chopper to safety. A second stranded horse was not found and is believed to have died.

The experience was emotional for the rescuers.

“You get your adrenaline going and everyone gets all excited and choked up,” Robert Bruno, president of Idaho Horse Rescue, told KTVB-TV of Boise.

In California, some of the heaviest snow and rain in decades should prove a life-saver for threatened native salmon, whose numbers have dropped during the state’s five-year drought that is now easing.

Flooding this winter has greatly expanded the bug-rich wetlands where young salmon can eat and grow strong on their way to the ocean, said John McManus of the Golden Gate Salmon Association, a fishing-industry group.

“They eat like little pigs, and they love it,” McManus said. “It’s a little smorgasbord for them.”

___

AP journalists Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Ellen Knickmeyer in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Too Many Deer on the Road? Let Cougars Return, Study Says

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/science/too-many-deer-on-the-road-let-cougars-return-study-says.html?mabReward=A1&action=click&pgtype=Homepage%C2%AEion=CColumn&module=Recommendation&src=rechp&WT.nav=RecEngine&_r=1&referer=

Cougars can kill hundreds of deer over the course of their lives, leading some scientists to argue that restoring them to 19 states with large populations of deer could prevent automobile-deer collisions.
KONRAD WOTHE / MINDEN PICTURES
JULY 18, 2016
Trilobites
By JAMES GORMAN
What large mammal regularly kills humans in the Eastern United States?

And what other large mammal might significantly reduce those deaths?

The answer to the first question is the white-tailed deer. Deer do not set out to murder people, as far as anyone knows, but they do jump out in front of vehicles so often that they cause more than a million collisions a year, resulting in more than 200 deaths.

The answer to the second question, according to a new scientific study, is the cougar.
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‘Animal versus animal’ as elk, dogs clash

By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on July 19, 2016 8:25AM

Last changed on July 19, 2016 9:09AM

GEARHART — A pet whippet was trampled and killed by a herd of deer at the Reserve at Gearhart this month. In another incident reported to Gearhart Police, an elk kicked a dog and broke the dog’s legs. A Little Beach resident said he saw a herd menace kayakers this month when they approached too close to the shore.

“They will sometimes get aggressive,” Wildlife Communications Coordinator Michelle Dennehy of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said. “It can happen anytime. The advice for pets and people is to try to keep away.”

Oregon has two types of elk, Dennehy said, Roosevelt elk on the coast and Rocky Mountain elk in the Cascades. Roosevelt elk bulls typically weigh 900 pounds, and cows clear 600 pounds. Roosevelt elk in western Oregon have the larger body size, but typically Rocky Mountain elk — prevalent in Eastern Oregon — have larger antlers. “This makes sense when you think about how Roosevelt elk need to get through very thick brush,” she said.

With calving season, people and their pets are well-advised to steer clear of the herd, she said, which can reach 60 or more.
Dogs no match
A sign posted by the dunes in Gearhart warns: “Keep clear of the elk. Elk will charge to defend calves.”

Gearhart Police Chief Jeff Bowman said the risk increases at a time when elk cows are protective of newborn calves. “It all boils down to an animal versus animal, and the elk aren’t going to back down from a dog coming at them. They’ve got babies. If people are walking and not having their dogs on a leash, they’d better be looking for the elk.”

Everywhere there are elk, “people should have their dogs on leash,” naturalist and photographer Neal Maine said. “A modern-day dog really doesn’t understand an elk, and most people think the elk are going to run away from a dog. Elk can chase them, much like people take their dogs to the beach to chase birds around for exercise. Coyotes and wolves are two of their past enemies, so they’re all set up to take them out.”

The behavior may be brutal. Once they get a dog down, “they pound on them with their feet,” Maine said. “It’s part of their reaction to a predator.”

“If your dog is cornered — you wouldn’t want to intervene, unless you’re really foolhardy,” Maine added.

John Dudley has a home by Little Beach in Gearhart, ground zero for the elk population, where he chronicles the path of the elk with his camera. “The difference lately has been there have been calves in the herd, week-old calves,” Dudley said. “It’s postpartum time for the cows.”

One “alpha bull,” recognizable by a small but visible scar on his right shoulder, in the herd is particularly aggressive, Dudley said.

Sometimes the bull becomes “rather agitated,” herding the others, corralling them, and fighting off young bulls who consider themselves “pretenders to the throne.”

Dudley said he witnessed an encounter when a kayaker in the estuary was pulled toward the shore by the tide. The kayakers drifted closer to the herd and they pulled out cellphones to film the encounter.

“Suddenly something spooked the elk and en masse they galloped south,” Dudley said. “They could have just as easily stampeded over the kayakers.”
Taking cues
Normally, Gearhart’s elk herd “kind of moseys,” Bowman said.

Hikers and visitors should take heed when “their heads come up from their feeding and they’re staring at you and they’re not turning,” he said. “Turn around and go back,” Bowman said. “They’ll leave you alone. They aren’t going to chase you down. Their heads are going to go back down and they’ll continue eating.”

Elk eat 50 pounds a day — “and they don’t care if it’s your garden, off the golf course or through the woods,” Bowman said.

People should not attempt to approach the elk for cellphone pictures. “If they want to do photography, get a camera,” Maine said. “Elk photography with a cellphone is not productive.”

“The two times I’ve seen chase-downs, they’d been trying to get close enough to get a cellphone shot,” Maine said.
Observing nature
Maine advised the best way to enjoy the elk is to appreciate “an amazing creature that’s been here for thousands of years.”

“We should learn to become observers of wildlife, he said, and take 15 minutes to watch the interaction between the cows and the calves and the spikes,” Maine said. “Keep your distance and watch the phenomena of them moving, feeding, interacting, so you’re observing something, not just trying to get a picture. Watch their behavior and be intrigued and interested in that part of it. That gets missed by the drive-by folks.”

Prior to European settlement, more than 10 million elk roamed nearly all of the United States and parts of Canada, with about 1 million today.

Maine said at one point, less than a century ago, the elk were virtually extinct in Clatsop County from overhunting. Hunting was closed for about 10 years as elk were reintroduced into the area. “There are people who say their grandpa had a picture of elk being unloaded from a train in downtown Seaside to transplant here.”

To stay safe, keep your dog on a leash, no elk selfies and observe, don’t interfere, Maine said. “The reason this area is so rich and so beautiful and so wonderful is because there’s still wildlife in the habitat. So observe it, enjoy it and have it make your day richer.”

Manmade problem led wolves to kill elk

http://trib.com/opinion/columns/lloyd-manmade-problem-led-wolves-to-kill-elk/article_163910e6-0a09-5f83-8e3d-e82bce14f0eb.html

By Jared Lloyd

A lot of noise has been made about the 19 elk killed last month by a pack of wolves in Bondurant. What has been lost throughout much of the coverage are the facts about what actually led to this extremely rare occurrence. Behind the headlines is a manmade story. To be able to understand what went down that night in Wyoming, these facts need to be understood.

To begin with, the elk in question were killed on a feedlot. Just like cattle, in Wyoming elk have feedlots as well. Picture anywhere between a few hundred to a few thousand “wild” elk standing around waiting to be fed. Wyoming has elk feedlots all over the place. Come winter, these feeding grounds shovel out bales of hay for the elk like they are livestock. Elk are heavily concentrated in these feedlots, fed all winter long, and have learned to just stand around waiting for their daily handouts.

So why does Wyoming feed elk in the first place? Is it because predators in the ecosystem are killing so many? No. Wyoming actually considers elk to be overpopulated. This practice was started in part to keep elk from competing with cattle back when predators across the Rocky Mountains were at their lowest numbers. In the absence of predators, elk populations exploded. Come winter, these animals would flood onto ranches in search of food, gorging themselves on stocks of hay.

So what has all this done to the elk? Quite simply, elk no longer act like elk. Given that these animals have grown up in a relatively predator-free environment for nearly 100 years, elk are now being forced to come to terms with the reality of predators again. And in order to survive, lesson number one is not to stand around in groups of a several thousand, in one place, for months on end waiting for handouts from humans.

So what did the wolves do? They committed what is known as surplus killing. Occasionally, when prey is so plentiful, predators will kill multiple animals in one go. Scientists state that when faced with a bonanza such as the feedlot provided, wolves may kill with the intention to return as often as that food is available.

More: http://trib.com/opinion/columns/lloyd-manmade-problem-led-wolves-to-kill-elk/article_163910e6-0a09-5f83-8e3d-e82bce14f0eb.html

copyrighted wolf in water

MT Wardens seeking information on elk poaching at Montana game range

 

http://helenair.com/news/crime-and-courts/wardens-seeking-information-on-elk-poaching-at-montana-game-range/article_6db2e2a9-7871-53a5-a5a7-09bf1c3e7833.html

HAMILTON – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials are hoping the public will help them track down people who killed two elk on a game range and left one to rot Wednesday.

FWP Warden Capt. Joe Jaquith said someone killed two elk on the Three Mile Game Range northeast of Stevensville either late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.

The poachers drove behind a closed sign to retrieve one of the elk and left the other cow elk behind.

“We are hoping to talk with anyone coming in or out of the game range (Wednesday) morning who saw a vehicle with an elk in the back,” Jaquith said. “We are interested in getting any information that people might be able to provide about that.”

Jaquith urged anyone with information to call the TIP-MONT hotline at 800-847-6668.

Anyone providing information that leads to an arrest in the case will be eligible for a reward. Those providing information can remain anonymous.

Hunters shoot two elk – then realise they were firing through fence into zoo

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/hunters-shoot-dead-two-elk-before-realising-they-are-firing-into-zoo-enclosure-a6698626.html

1610111_10152194241138908_1599987755_n “A group of hunters in Norway have shot dead two elk – before
realising seconds later they were firing through a fence into the
animal’s enclosure in a zoo.”

What Fresh Hell Is This?

What do you call a war waged on unarmed opponents?  Considering the rate and frequency of shooting I’m hearing out there now, there’s a massacre going on. If the victims being slain were human, it would be called mass murder. A pre-dawn ambush. All-out insanity. Evil incarnate.

But to the hunters on opening day annihilating ducks and geese, it’s tradition; harvesting nature; business as usual.

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson

Someone must have signaled “charge” to an entire platoon waiting to attack at dawn, and a mindless barrage of semi-automatic shotgun fire shattered the morning air. Now it’s 7:30 a.m. and only the random explosions break the stillness. The blitzkrieg has been going on steadily for over forty-five minutes—since before first light (sunrise today is officially at 7:35, according to the NOAA weather radio).

I wasn’t sure if the “enemy,” no, “opponent,” no, victims were the elk herd who occasionally visit the neighbor’s hayfield, the stray black-tail deer who keep themselves mostly out of sight around here for fear of poachers, or the ducks and geese who are starting to gather on their customary wintering grounds. Judging by the constant rapid gun fire, the victims must be the “waterfowl” whose “season” started today.

What fresh hell is this? Armageddon for avian kind? Or just another opening day for sport hunters?

Things you see when you don’t have a camera

A trip to town yesterday was pretty amazing, wildlife-wise. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. From the north side of the Astoria bridge we saw the humpback whale who’s been seen hanging out around in the lower Colombia River for a few days.

Then, after visiting the sea lions who reside on the East Moring Basin docks, we went to Hammond, by to Fort Stevens State Park, and watched a friendly herd of elk close up in a scene reminiscent of Mammoth Village in Yellowstone National Park. 

For a grand finale, we stopped to walk the dog at the “Dismal Niche”* rest area (*a name indicative of Lewis and Clark’s lack of appreciation of the area),  and saw a group of around 30 harbor seals just offshore in a channel of river. They were treading water, popping up and going under, probably looking for fish though we never saw them catch any). Perhaps they were just enjoying the gentle current in the eddy they found there. 

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Sans Sea Lions, the Port of Astoria Would Miss the Boat

Situated near the mouth of the Columbia River at the top of the Oregon Coast, Astoria, can be a nice small town to visit, if you like sea lions. If not, it can be a cold, heartless and otherwise pretty boring place. DSC_0043

The entertaining pinnipeds lounging, cavorting and guarding their tiny spot on a couple of the docks in the town’s East Moring Basin are a must see for anyone who enjoys connecting with the wildlife close-up.

DSC_0055 DSC_0073

Unfortunately, a few of the locals are more fulfilled by hating and shooting the friendly, comical sea lions despite the steady draw they bring to this depressed and rather depressing town which makes a temporary living through extraction of dwindling natural resources, such as fish and trees (many of which are shipped to China on giant, diesel carbon-spewing container ships). Not unlike so many other instances in society, it’s really only a few local people, claiming all for humans, who want the sea lions evicted, but they don’t mind ruining it for everyone else.                                                          

Also see: http://www.kptv.com/story/29106664/sea-lion-shot-in-head-on-cowlitz-river-reward-offered-to-find-shooter#.VV05AFMtWuU.facebook

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, All Rights Reserved

A similar situation is going on in nearby Gearhart, just north of Seaside, Oregon. A herd of Roosevelt elk recently moved into the quietish town (after being crowded out of their former home by development, including a Home Depot, Petco, Staples, Dollar Store, a couple of auto dealerships, and a relocated, expanded super-Costco, with more to come soon—all, ironically—on “Dolphin” Lane). For now they enjoy the dunes along the beach, but that could all change if the few who resent wildlife in their proximity have their way…

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