Thursday, October 19, 2017

Federal Lands Transfer???

A recent story indicated that the federal government spent over $2.7 billion (yes- that’s billion, folks with a “b”) to fight wildfires during the 2017 fiscal year, which ended September 1.  Montana has spent in excess of $400 million to cope with this year’s disastrous fire season.
The final tally for both the federal government, Montana and other western states is still to come in, and fires continue to burn as we enter fall.  This raises the question for those who have so stridently advocated that states assume federal public lands’ “management.” If our legislature and governor are struggling to pay our state fire costs for this year, and balance the budget, where would we be if we also were responsible for the care and protection of the many federal lands that also went up in flames this summer?  
The issue is yet another in an already long, long list of legal, scientific and philosophical questions that serves to underscore the short-sighted and ill-conceived  nature of efforts by those who strive to transfer federal lands to state ownership.

    Montana Sportsmen Alliance

        John Borgreen, Great Falls
        Steve Schindler, Glasgow
        Jeff Herbert, Helena
        Sam Milodragovich, Butte
        Joe Perry, Conrad
        JW Westman, Park City
        Robert Wood, Hamilton

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Montana Outdoors Disease at the Door

Disease at the Door

Montana will rely on hunters and landowners to help control CWD when (not if) it arrives. By Laura Lundquist.

This story is featured in Montana Outdoors September–October 2017 issue.
One day soon, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks veterinarian Jennifer Ramsey will receive the email she’s long dreaded: Colorado State University technicians will have found chronic wasting disease in one or more of the deer tissue samples she sent them. That message will change the future, both for FWP and the state’s deer and elk hunters.
In early May of this year, Ramsey thought that day had come. A woman called about a deer in her yard that was acting oddly. Her children had freed the deer from a fence, but then it just stood there, dazed and drooling, head down, emaciated—all symptoms of a deer suffering from chronic wasting disease (CWD).
After the deer was euthanized, Ramsey removed two lymph nodes from its neck and sent them to Colorado. Then she waited. “It was a pretty stressful couple of weeks. When I got the email, I swear I opened it like this,” Ramsey says, covering her eyes with her hand and slowly peering through two fingers.
It turned out the deer was just old. But when CWD settles in Montana, many deer and elk will start dying well before their time. And, if nothing is done, Montana could eventually see large-scale die-offs like those in Colorado’s and Wyoming’s infected mule deer herds. “I don’t think any of us will be surprised when we get a positive result,” Ramsey says. “How could it be everywhere around us and not here?”
Deadly brain disease
The origins of CWD are unknown. It was first reported in the United States in 1967, when researcher Beth Williams saw telltale symptoms in captive mule deer that eventually died at a Colorado Division of Wildlife fac-ility. She recognized the probable cause because she’d already seen the disease in captive deer in her previous job at the Toronto Zoo. After that, researchers were dismayed to find the disease popping up in other captive herds across North America and then, even more alarming, in wild populations.
Like mad-cow disease and scrapie in sheep, CWD kills by causing proteins in the brain and nervous system to malfunction. Like some cancers, it takes a while—one and a half to two years—before CWD progresses to where symptoms appear and the afflicted animal dies. Lacking easy and noninvasive tests to find it in live animals, scientists have a hard time detecting the disease until it becomes widespread.
CWD is caused by a deformed protein called a prion that, once it invades deer or elk, changes normal, working prions into abnormal, malfunctioning ones. Because CWD is not caused by a bacteria or virus, antibiotics and other conventional medicines don’t work, frustrating wildlife biologists who have tried to stop its relentless spread.
Abnormal prions invade a healthy animal through contact with an infected animal’s saliva, urine, feces, or decaying carcass. Because elk and deer are social animals that congregate, the disease moves within and among herds. The odds of transmission are especially high when animals are packed into wildlife farms or feed grounds—such as the 8,000 to 10,000 elk that gather in the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to eat hay and cattle pellets provided by the refuge. The disease is always fatal.
Killing CWD-infected deer and elk does not solve the problem. Prions can persist in the environment for at least two years, waiting for the next curious deer to come along.
In the West, mule deer, especially bucks, seem most susceptible to CWD, followed by white-tailed deer. Elk and moose are affected to a lesser degree.
So far, CWD has turned up in wild herds in two Canadian provinces and 21 states, most recently Arkansas in 2015. Four states have found it only in captive populations, including Montana in 1998 when elk on a Philipsburg game farm tested positive.
The Philipsburg operation was shut down, but it scared enough people for FWP to start a CWD surveillance program. Testing began in 2000 thanks to federal funding, and 1,500 to 2,000 animals, mostly harvested by hunters, were sampled each year. After 2012, however, federal funding dried up. Until recently, FWP has lacked funds to continue monitoring, which concerns Ramsey. “Without annual surveillance, we don’t know what’s going on out there,” she says.
Nearly surrounded
Over the past decade, CWD has nearly surrounded Montana (see map below).

CWD keyInfected animals live just over the border on three sides of the state in Wyoming, the Dakotas, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In 2016, a deer tested positive north of Cody, Wyoming, just eight miles from the Montana border. “The odds are good it’s already here. We just haven’t discovered it yet,” says John Vore, FWP Game Management Bureau chief.
Though CWD could arrive from any neighboring state or province, Wyoming is the most likely source. Once scientists there learned that CWD wasn’t a proven health threat to humans, Wyoming stopped managing for the disease. Since then, infection rates in mule deer have climbed higher than 30 percent in some districts. As a result, the size of some infected herds has declined by up to 20 percent each year. Last year, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission voted to renew efforts to limit CWD.
Unfortunately, once CWD infects most of a herd, there’s little state wildlife agencies can do. They can’t eradicate the disease because, by that time, it has pervaded the environment. Large-scale culling doesn’t work either, because it’s nearly impossible to kill all the deer or elk in a large area—not to mention that people don’t like seeing entire herds wiped out.
Despite these challenges, states that tackle the problem early and approve special hunts that keep the infection at less than 5 percent of a population might keep the threat under control, says Colorado Parks & Wildlife veterinarian Michael Miller, who has studied CWD for the past 20 years. “Wildlife managers need to be engaged somewhere between the knee-jerk crisis response and just sitting back and seeing what happens,” Miller says. “CWD is just another way for animals to die. If it’s a rare way for them to die, then it’s probably sustainable. But if it starts to become a common source of mortality, well, then you’ve got problems.”
Ramsey says that once CWD gets into a deer or elk population, there’s no feasible way to eradicate it. “Instead, our goal will be to keep prevalence low and prevent it from spreading,” she says.
Deer tissue needed
Vore says FWP is renewing surveillance this hunting season. Biologists will sample mule deer in southwestern and south-central Mon- tana and then focus on eastern, central, and western Montana in 2018. Workers at hunter check stations will request tissue samples that will be sent in for testing. “We’ll also work with game processors and taxidermists to obtain samples from targeted areas,” Vore says.
In addition, FWP wildlife disease ecologist Emily Almberg will test deer near the defunct Philipsburg elk farm. “Because it’s a slow-growing disease, it’s unlikely that we would have found a positive wild animal in that area back in the late 1990s. But now...?” Almberg says, shrugging. “I’m mentally preparing myself to find it at a higher prevalence there and in other areas than we would like, because we’ve done almost no surveillance over the past four years.”
FWP is working with a citizens’ advisory panel to determine an initial response once the disease is found in Montana deer or elk. The department would likely institute a special CWD hunt in which hunters would harvest 300 to 500 animals within at least a 10-mile radius of the first CWD-positive animal. That’s the harvest size Almberg says is necessary for her to understand what percentage of animals are infected and how far across an area the disease has spread. “The point of the special hunt wouldn’t be to try to eradicate the disease, but to determine its prevalence and geographical range,” she says.
Any special CWD hunt would take place during or near the general five-week season, Vore says. FWP would likely issue special restricted licenses to prevent hunters from flooding the area.
To keep prions from spreading, hunters wouldn’t be able to leave a special hunt area with a whole carcass, just as they can’t legally bring carcasses into Montana from states or provinces where CWD exists.
Instead, they’d have to use game processors or taxidermists in those areas. Because a CWD test takes a few weeks, hunters won’t know right away if their animal is infected.
If a deer or elk does have CWD, it’s up to the hunter to decide whether to eat the venison. It won’t be an easy decision. The Centers for Disease Control states that “no strong evidence of CWD transmission to humans has been reported.” At the same time, the federal agency recommends not eating the meat of infected animals.
If, after a special CWD hunt, Almberg finds low prevalence of the disease, FWP would likely maintain the existing general hunting season in that area. If more than 5 percent of harvested animals have the disease, the department may modify the general season to reduce prevalence. That would likely require targeting older bucks, which have a higher infection rate.
Will increasing buck harvest be a hard sell to hunters, especially if it’s required in hunting districts managed for trophy deer? Chad Klinkenborg thinks not. The Montana director of the Mule Deer Foundation and a member of the CWD advisory panel suspects that hunters wouldn’t put up much resistance, especially if they understood the consequences. “I think most will have the attitude of, ‘Let’s do whatever is necessary to contain this, because we want to protect the mule deer population at large,’” Klinkenborg says.
Tom Toman of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation says his organization is committed to helping Montana respond to outbreaks and manage for the disease. “We continue to promote sound science and fund research to help contain CWD,” he says.
All hands on deck
Landowner cooperation also will be critical. During a CWD hunt, hunters will need to spread out across the response area to harvest enough animals for scientific study. If some landowners are unwilling to allow public hunting, then CWD surveillance and disease control will be severely hampered. Vore hopes all land-owners will see the value in keeping the disease contained.
Perhaps the biggest challenge in managing CWD will be to sustain public interest and cooperation. “It’s not like blue tongue [disease], where you have a bunch of dead deer lying around,” says Ramsey. “CWD takes 20 years to start to affect a deer or elk population.” Both Colorado and Wyoming have struggled to keep hunters, landowners, and others engaged over the long haul. Those states warn that when vigilance with the slow-moving disease wanes, more deer and elk start to die. “They’re advising us to predict a lot of hoopla when we find CWD,” says Vore. “But then people may lose interest and stop working with us because they won’t see any changes to populations. But, unfortunately, their grandkids will."Bear bullet
Laura Lundquist is a journalist in Missoula.

Mountain Journal The Lords Of Yesterday Are Back And They Want America's Public Land

The Lords Of Yesterday Are Back And They Want America's Public Land

Opinion: Barry Reiswig—a backcountry horseman, hunter, angler and civil servant —pushes back against "the radical agenda" of Ryan Zinke

I have been fortunate in my life to have lived and worked in virtually every Western state. I have followed the tracks of elk in Colorado’s magnificent Flattops, and gazed out over the sagebrush vistas peppered with pronghorn at South Pass where the Oregon Trail skirts the south end of Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

I have dodged hail storms, lightning and grizzlies on the Beartooth Plateau of Montana. I have viewed the petroglyphs, thousands of years old, on the sandstone walls in the canyonlands of Utah and in the vicinity of Bears Ears.

For a memorable span of my adult life, I worked for the federal government and, with pride, devoted myself to civil service. Embracing the oath of stewardship, I oversaw the operation of a special piece of public ground—the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole.

Remaining a proud resident of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem today, I have spent a lifetime traveling thousands of miles by horseback, leading pack trains over the mountains and deserts of our public lands. These lands fire my soul, they provide me a true sense of place, they define who I am as a person. But I'm not alone. I know you share it with me.

When I am out on the public lands I become part of the landscape, part of the pageant of America’s human history—Native American, mountain man, cowboy, settler, soldier, outlaw, preacher, riverboat captain, recreationist, hunter, angler, and, in general, refugee from the crowded world everywhere else.

I mention my background only as a preface to this: I know what we are about to lose.

Yes, don't ever doubt it, they’re coming for our public lands, yours and mine. In fact, they’re already here. It is happening and if the real sell-off or divestiture begins, it will be swift and irreversible. 

The billionaires and big corporations, fronted by organizations with slick-sounding names, like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the American Lands Council (ALC), are working behind the scenes to take our land away from us. They are laying the groundwork. 

These modern-day robber barons, descendants of the Lords of Yesterday against whom President Theodore Roosevelt fought, know our public lands are worth a fortune—really holding an intangible pricelessness—and they have their sights set on liquidation.  [Editor's note: "Lords of Yesterday" is a reference, first created by the noted Western public policy scholar and law professor Charles Wilkinson, to those who treated the West as a natural resource colony good only for plundering].

Oh, you haven’t read much in the daily western media, and you probably won’t given the lack of depth in reporting, because those who view our public lands as a great prize are doing their work behind closed doors by directly influencing our state and federal legislators.

How does this work? 

ALEC, as just one entity, puts on “seminars” for our elected representatives and gives them “scholarships” to attend these get-togethers free of charge at posh hotels where they can rub elbows with the representatives of the financial elite and lobbyists for big corporations.

Our elected officials are being taught how to take our land away from us.

Land we own together, public land, as sacred as the sight of the flag. At the same time, part of the "teaching" is portraying  those tens of thousands of people on the homefront, who serve our country in the uniform of public land management agencies, as adversaries. 

Don’t expect an invitation to attend their meetings anytime soon; you’re not invited.  Armed with a bevy of lawyers and public relations experts, ALEC carefully plots strategy on getting control of the public lands. They know it won’t be easy but they think the time is right because they believe we are asleep.

We need to wake up.

Our new Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, a self-pronounced devotee of Theodore Roosevelt (God only knows why, for he is nothing like TR) has been busy attempting to undermine our public lands for the benefit of the same folks who want to steal them.  He has been less than forthcoming. And he has allies in libertarian think-tanks and Congressional staffs who are adept at dispensing the real definition of "alternative facts".  [View U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich's pointed questioning of Zinke's deputy on inaccuracies in his report to the White House below].
Zinke’s proposals, such as arbitrarily reducing the size of some of our National Monuments, supporting the hatchery rearing of sage grouse chicks in Wyoming and Montana instead of protecting key habitats (there could be oil, gas and coal under there boys), and his latest gem, moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) to Denver—which has long been the western capital for the energy industry and those seeking water grabs— are all designed to please the big boys.

The BuRec headquarters was already located in Denver for many years, and was finally moved to Washington because Congress wanted to keep a closer eye on dam builders hell bent on taming all of our wild rivers.
"When I am out on the public lands I become part of the landscape, part of the pageant of America’s human history—Native American, mountain man, cowboy, settler, soldier, outlaw, preacher, riverboat captain, recreationist, hunter, angler, and, in general, refugee from the crowded world everywhere else."  —Barry Reiswig
In a speech recently to his buddies in the energy industry, Zinke stated that about a third of Interior employees are not loyal to President Donald Trump.  Really?  Personally, I think that figure is a bit low.

Zinke won't meet with conservationists but he told the National Petroleum Council with indignation that Interior employees are reluctant to relax regulations to permit increased mining for coal and drilling for natural gas and oil on public land.

Most Interior employees I am familiar with are loyal, not to Trump, but to the resources under their care—national parks, historic sites, national conservation lands, wildlife refuges, fisheries and the archeological sites they are responsible for.  They want to keep healthy wildlife populations on the landscape. They are loyal to maintaining clean air and water. They have devoted their lives to it.

Most of all, these public servants are loyal to us, the American people, and we ought to be standing with them. They swear a non-partisan allegiance, as I did, that is inter-generational, not to the whims of a President whose fortune was made selling real estate in Manhattan or to a short-term-minded Interior Secretary who is rapidly securing a place in history as the worst ever—a feat that is actually difficult to achieve.

How could anybody with any ethical integrity or knowledge of our connection to public lands be loyal to Trump? 

Two westerners on horseback. Who better reflects the spirit of conservationist Theodore Roosevelt? Barry Reiswig, left, is a retired civil servant, lifelong backcountry horseman, hunter and angler; at right, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, riding in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, D.C. Photo of Reiswig courtesy Wyoming Wilderness Association. Photo of Zinke courtesy of U.S. Department of Interior (click to enlarge)
It is our dear Interior Secretary who has a loyalty problem, demonstrated by the fact he has not taken one single, solitary action for conserving our public lands since he set foot in the Interior building after riding up on a horse for a staged PR event. Nice touch. He might want to tighten up that cinch a bit though, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

This former self-touting Navy Seal—most former Navy Seals actually don’t have to beat their chests— is going to learn that we, the owners of public lands, can be stubborn characters, unwilling to give up our birthright to some of the most magnificent landscapes in the world.

Zinke and his allies on Capitol Hill and those in the libertarian think-tanks are bombarding us with unfounded claims that the states will do a better job of managing the public lands (it’s not true, states can’t afford it), and that the “local folks” know more about the public lands than those pesky federal bureaucrats way back there in Washington. 

Those plotting to steal our western heritage solemnly promise there will be no net loss of public lands if they fall to state management, and access will be guaranteed us in perpetuity. Don’t worry, they say, the “local boys” will take care of it. Take care of it for whom? 

Schemes like having the states manage our federal public lands for us are cropping up as well. This would need to be accomplished with federal funds of course, no need to spend those precious state dollars. There are those who truly believe that in a capitalistic society, public lands should not exist, all land should be private.

The fact is that, increasingly, local people in Greater Yellowstone appreciate the value of public lands and conservation because, together, they are central to our quality of life.

I was on talk radio recently in Cody, Wyoming, where lands transfer was the topic. A listener called in and flatly stated all the public lands in Wyoming, more than 25 million acres, should be put up for disposal, 320 acres at a pop under the Desert Land Act. Then, if people wanted to visit these former public lands, they could pay the owner for the privilege; interesting concept, isn’t it?

"I was on talk radio recently in Cody, Wyoming, where lands transfer was the topic. A listener called in and flatly stated all the public lands in Wyoming, more than 25 million acres, should be put up for disposal, 320 acres at a pop under the Desert Land Act. Then, if people wanted to visit these former public lands, they could pay the owner for the privilege; interesting concept, isn’t it?"
Imagine an eighty-mile pack trip through the backcountry. It would certainly become a tremendous effort in logistics, begging the new private owners holding the deed to let you trek across their land.

The AM radio caller mentioned that’s how it is done in Texas. Apparently he thinks the Texas model, where virtually all the land is private, is a good thing, and yes, you pay to do about anything in Texas.

The caller did touch on the central goal of the modern-day land transfer advocates: cash. It’s all about the money; it’s always been all about “the money”. From the early day robber barons to the modern mega-corporations, it’s about maximizing the bottom line, their bottom line, at our expense.

Most of us will never be able to afford a big ranch in the mountains or a trophy home in Jackson Hole or Big Sky. But we, in our own way, are all wealthy because we are part-owners in our public lands. We have opportunities to hunt, fish, camp, rock hound, climb, raft, ride horses, putter around in ORV’s on a scale people elsewhere in the world can’t even imagine.

One thing to note, and I mention this to counter the distortion of the libertarian think-tanks in Bozeman: we already pay; all of us, as citizens, have a portion of our tax dollars going to national parks and forests and wildlife refuges and BLM lands and to resource managers and rangers and scientists working on our behalf for these agencies.

We pay for private ranchers to run their livestock on public lands, too, because we subsidize their grazing fees and their killing of predators and so-called public land improvements and road building and, if the weather gets bad and it kills cattle or sheep, we pay with disaster relief payments.

If the proponents of liquidation succeed in snookering us out of public lands we already own and pay for, will those privateers be willing to give up all those public subsidies?  And are we willing to do without the access to lands we own, lands handed to us as part of our civic inheritance, lands that we’ve counted on passing down to our kids and grandkids?

Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument, photograph courtesy of US Bureau of Land Management

Indian Creek in Bears Ears National Monument, photograph courtesy of US Bureau of Land Management

One huge irony: Mr. Zinke and the radical lawmakers pushing this land grab live in some of the states receiving the greatest amount of public subsidies in the country. They know the data doesn’t support their arguments so they alter facts deliberately to deceive.

Do not be deceived. The public lands belong to us—not to a federal government that is portrayed as an "other". Those of us who have served in uniform are the stewards.

We the people are the owners, not the billionaires or the states or the big corporate executives, or even the gun-toting thugs who profess to protect the Constitution but are really just another type of land thief.

Don’t be lulled into believing the fate of pubic lands is permanent or secured.  Mr. Zinke and the people coming after our lands are, if nothing else, patient. They are hoping that the high intrigue currently playing out on the global stage, the fear of a nuclear exchange with North Korea or the shenanigans in Russia, will keep us distracted. Don’t be.

Call up your members of Congress, governor, state legislators and local county commissioners. Insist that they get back to you personally.  Tell elected officials, no matter where you are reading this now, that you say “no” to the radicals.

This is one of the defining fights of our lifetime. Don’t sit on the sidelines.

It’s time our elected officials start sticking up for the little guys, Americans of average means, instead of corporate interests beholden to shareholders, not citizens.

What we are seeing is nothing new, it’s happened before in America, and it was Teddy Roosevelt who stood down the robber barons seeking to take control of the land, them promising an illusionary pot of gold at the end of the lands transfer rainbow.

This is our call to citizenship and trust me, you matter. If you don’t stand up now, your kids and grandkids will only have you to blame later.

Once this bunch sells our land and spends the money and hands over the deed to the schemers, we will be left with nothing, bereft of the sacred sense of who we are.

Barry Reiswig
About Barry Reiswig

Barry Reiswig retired as a senior wildlife manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and today lives in Cody, Wyoming. He is an avid backcountry horseman, hunter and angler.
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Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dysfunctional Board of Outfitters Moga leads the way down the tube!

These are comments From the Montana Sportsmen Alliance:

We try to attend most Boo meetings and keep up with the issues.

1.  This board is totally dysfunctional with Moga members controlling the
vote.  There is never an effort at compromise nor any effort to protect the
public.  Board materials go to Moga officers, staff and members where they
are rewritten and offered back.  The rest of us are out of this loop.  If
Mr. Arnaud can't keep board materials between board members, they should be
distributed to all!  We asked long ago that MSA be provided anything that Moga got.
Perhaps its time to ask for a thorough review of the
charge of the members of this board!  Mr. Tabor, Mr. Minard,  and others are
not on this board and should not be involved.  This lopsided voting will
force rearranging this board in statute or composition or both.  Where is
the effort at giving the public its due?  
We request DLI (not Boo staff) to train this board in their charge, as
well as their responsibility to the public and not just for $ for Moga

2.  The rule pkg with no provisions for record keeping is in opposition to
the Gov.'s veto language of SB 264.  Are you folks comfortable following
Moga's lead in thumbing their nose at the Gov.?  Are you comfortable with
the negative press for the industry?  Are you comfortable standing against
DLI?  Is this what is best for the Montana Public and game mgmt in general.
We disagree and so does the Gov's office.

3.  The rule pkg on rules for OA, first aid, and last minute booking is
horrible.  Moga is once again advocating for themselves without considering
the public.  The OA is a privilege not a right.  Every step along the way,
Moga has fought for vague or no sideboards so they can beat the system.
Remember, we asked for strict guidelines so the abuse of the past is not
repeated..little to ask in light of the abuse and the entitlement!
The last minute booking is not part of legislative intent.  Mac Minard
testified last meeting that they liked this bill and would have killed it in
committee if they didn't..not in any way true!  Jean first tried to kill the
bill and was told no!  Jean then tried to manipulate the bill.  She offered
her amendment, then told committee and sponsor that everyone had agreed to
it.  Rep. Flynn and Rep. Jacobson were duped and MSA, the bill's originator,
was never consulted in any way shape or form.  This shows the level of
dishonesty Moga commonly uses.  Rep. Jacobson says "you fix this or we will"
to Boo. Back to the legislature.
The first aid proposal that we thought was a compromise was changed at
the last minute by the Arnaud to one time only hands on first aid.  Where was
that compromise again?
Hardly a service to the public and we strongly disagree.  This is another
legislative item.

This board has not been responsive to the public.  We will be vigilant in
our oversight to protect the public, including non-resident sportsmen.

Joe Perry   Conrad
   John Borgreen    Great Falls
   Robert Wood   Hamilton
   Jeff Herbert   Helena
   Sam Milodragovich   Butte
   Steve Schindler   Glasgow
   JW Westman   Park City

EMWH Alex Sienkiewicz restored to Forest Service Yellowstone District Ranger position

Oct. 11, 2017

"Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees.
And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people.
The American people deserve to know that their elected leaders play by the exact same rules that they play by and that their lawmakers' only interest is what's best for the country, not their own financial gain.
Read more at:
The American people deserve to know that their elected leaders play by the exact same rules that they play by and that their lawmakers' only interest is what's best for the country, not their own financial gain. Kirsten Gillibrand
Read more at:
The American people deserve to know that their elected leaders play by the exact same rules that they play by and that their lawmakers' only interest is what's best for the country, not their own financial gain. Kirsten Gillibrand
Read more at:"

Henry Clay, US. Senator and Secretary of State

Newsletter Social Media link

Alex Sienkiewicz restored to Forest Service Yellowstone District Ranger position

Alex Sienkiewicz, the former Yellowstone District Ranger, based in Livingston, was being investigated by the Forest Service after a number of Crazy Mountain landowners began a targeted campaign against him, further pushed through Senator Steve Daines to the Forest Service Chief and the newly sworn in Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. The charges included an easily disproved false allegation of a Facebook post. 

Sienkiewicz was doing his job, following Forest Service policy, managing for multiple use and public access to our public lands. He was removed from his District Ranger position on June 16, 2017. The public was told by the Custer Gallatin National Forest Service Supervisor Mary Erickson that an independent investigator was looking into the charges against Sienkiewicz by the landowners and that this investigation would NOT be subject to a FOIA or made public. 

After hearing from several sources this afternoon, that Alex Sienkiewicz was being restored to his Yellowstone District Ranger position, I called their office to confirm. 

According to the acting Yellowstone District Ranger, Sienkiewicz' restoration will be effective about Oct. 20th.

While I am relieved that such a good public trust servant is being restored to his position, there are still a number of unanswered questions about certain landowner's orchestration, including leveraging their respective organizations (Montana Outfitters & Guides Association, Montana Farm Bureau and the Montana Stockgrowers Association), through Senator Daines, up the chain to Ag. Secretary Sonny Perdue. We are talking about the service and career of a public employee with a young family here. 

Additionally, what are the costs, which our taxpayer dollars paid, for this removal and "investigation", which began in June? All based on what?

And what about the denied FOIA documents? Where is the accountability and transparency for such actions?

Moreover, the nationwide ramifications of the landowner/organization and congressional demands of removing all unperfected roads/trails from future publications of maps and the legislation or agency directives to end the prescriptive easement process remains. This was, of course, the bigger privatizing land grab, using Sienkiewicz as the excuse.

Thank you to all those that called, wrote emails, letters, opinion pieces and articles to advocate for one of our public trust employees and public access. Without such dedicated employees, how can we ever hope to preserve our public lands and access to them from privatization?

This battle is hardly over, there is still much work to be done involving Crazy Mountain public accessto our Forest Service public lands. I am thankful for this wee bit of good news.

On Another Privatizing Front ... Sportsmen and Outdoors Leaders Denounce Antiquities Act Takedown

"Leaders in the outdoors and sportsmen’s communities today joined together in criticizing House of Representatives legislation that would undermine the federal Antiquities Act, sending a strong and unified pro-conservation message from a diverse constituency of public lands users, recreationists, hunters and anglers.

Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Patagonia and First Lite CEOs together condemned a bill introduced on Friday by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah. The National Monument Creation and Protection Act (H.R. 3990) would severely limit national monument designations made by presidents, including stipulating that proposed monuments larger than 640 acres be subject to a federal review process and enabling presidents to reduce or alter monuments already in existence. The House Natural Resources Committee will take steps to advance this legislation at a markup this afternoon..." Click to read more from BHA.

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Press Release: Tom Jacobson endorsed by MSA

SportsmenAlliance Letterhead.jpgFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

The Montana Sportsmen Alliance proudly endorses Tom Jacobson for Senate District 11.   Tom was one of our first endorsees after MSA was formed.  We have worked closely with him through the last three sessions and he has been a rock star!  He has been willing to stand up for fellow sportsmen/women.  Tom has regularly spoken on our behalf both on the House Floor and House F&G.
Being a sportsmen himself, he understands just how important our sporting heritage is to Montanans.  Tom has stood up for clean air, clean water, healthy fish and game management, and the Public Trust!  He knows and understands the Montana Model of Wildlife Conservation and has done his very best to protect it!  He has received a number of awards for his work on behalf of sportsmen!  Tom always scores well on our scorecard.

Please join us for a campaign kickoff at the Wrangler Gallery on Central in Great Falls on October 17th at  5:00 to 7:00 PM.

Please help us support a known commodity in one of our top legislators, Tom Jacobson!

John Borgreen, Great Falls                              Steve Schindler, Glasgow
Jeff Herbert, Helena                                         Sam Milodragovich, Butte
Joe Perry, Conrad                                             JW Westman, Park City                                            
Robert Wood, Hamilton

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Part 1 of Mountain Journal on chronic wasting disease Greater Yellowstone's Coming Plague

Greater Yellowstone's Coming Plague

With The Arrival Of Chronic Wasting Disease Imminent, Is Government Mismanagement Threatening The Health Of GYE's Elk Herds And Humans?

Is this where a pandemic of Chronic Wasting Disease in Greater Yellowstone could begin? Thousands of elk bunched together on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Photograph "Winter Herd" by Thomas D. Mangelsen

Is this where a pandemic of Chronic Wasting Disease in Greater Yellowstone could begin? Thousands of elk bunched together on the National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Photograph "Winter Herd" by Thomas D. Mangelsen

On a map, “Deer Hunt Area 17” is unlikely to ring any bells of geographic recognition, even for residents in hunting-crazed Wyoming.

Located northwest of Gillette in the Powder River Basin—a sweep of rolling, mostly treeless high plains embedded in the largest coal-producing region in America—Hunt Area 17 on Monday, December 19, 2016 became one of the latest in Wyoming to have a publicly-confirmed case 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 added this to its statement, deferring to the assessment of medical professionals at two major public health entities: “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.”

Many more confirmations of CWD are expected to come soon in Wyoming. In fact, another arrived on September 25, 2017, with a mule deer buck testing positive in Dear Hunt Area 19. It’s not often that citizens receive advisories from a government agency cautioning them the wild edibles they have traditionally harvested from nature for generations should first be tested to determine if they are safe to eat.

But that’s exactly what Wyoming’s wildlife agency did. Not long ago, Game and Fish posted an additional bulletin, alluding to the findings of a non-peer-reviewed Canadian study in which macaques (primates with a genetic makeup very similar to humans) were fed deer meat contaminated with CWD and fell fatally ill with disease. 

CWD is on the minds of countless hunters in North America. Randy Newberg knows. He’s an avid Bozeman, Montana-based sportsman and conservationist who is host of  the Sportsman Channel's Fresh Tracks With Randy Newberg and one the most popular web podcasts devoted to public lands hunting.

Whenever Newberg posts a new podcast, it often is downloaded by between 100,000 and 150,000 people. He has a YouTube channel with nearly 40,000 subscribers and videos that have generated 200,000 views.  Additionally, his website has 43,000 registered members and his Facebook page 50,000 followers. Hunters listen to and generally trust what he has to say.

“Am I worried about CWD?” he asked as the fall 2017 hunting season was getting underway. “Yes, I’ve been worried about it for years in terms of what it means for the health of wild deer, elk and other animals." He acknowledges widespread confusion among hunters and that “public discussions about CWD are all over the map”.

“There are deniers and there are over-reacters,” he said. “Where I am with CWD comes down to the expert opinions of scientists, many of whom believe we could be setting ourselves up for disaster.”

Ever increasingly, in the rapidly-expanding reaches of the U.S. landscape becoming classified as CWD-endemic areas, huge numbers of outdoorspeople have trepidation about the wholesomeness of big game meat they bring home to the family dinner table.

The laboratory study with macaques in Canada mentioned above—if the results are confirmed by second and third parties and replicated in months and years ahead—would represent a frightening watershed moment in thinking about CWD’s ability to cross species barriers. It’s a malady whose seriousness as a possible risk to humans has often eclipsed discussion of its already real impacts to nature.

 If scientists were tasked with designing an experiment to create ideal conditions for a pandemic to take hold, involving a transmissible infectious disease in wildlife during winter when they are most stressed by the elements, one example would be the complex of artificial feeding operations identical to those operating today in western Wyoming. —Dr. Thomas Roffe, former chief of wildlife health for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Indeed, the potential menace CWD represents to the persistence of Greater Yellowstone’s migratory wildlife has been downplayed and minimized for years in Wyoming.

Numerous critics interviewed for this series say Wyoming’s hands'-off approach to dealing with CWD is one of the most glaring examples in modern wildlife history where a preponderance of growing scientific evidence, supporting the need for aggressive intervention to slow a potential catastrophe, has been willfully dismissed to fit entrenched political agendas and commercial interests.

Like the expanding impacts of human population growth and climate change in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, CWD represents a true test, they say, of whether public and private land managers, elected officials and citizens in the region can really come together to address landscape-level challenges.

° ° °

CWD afflicts members of the cervid (deer) family, which, in the Rocky Mountain West, includes mule and white-tail deer, elk, and moose.  (Caribou, which dwell in the arboreal and tundra north, are also deer family members).

Testing to determine if game meat is infected with CWD is made only after an animal is dead, yet living carriers of the contagion can appear normal and asymptomatic even when stricken with the disease that will kill them.

Endemic zone classifications for CWD applies to areas where the disease is now believed to be present in animals.  But as with the testing mentioned above, lack of confirmation of a CWD-infected ungulate being present in a given area does not equate to absence of disease.

While Wyoming Deer Hunt Areas 17 and 19 are a few hours’ drive from Greater Yellowstone, CWD endemic zones already extend figuratively to the doorstep of Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, the adjacent National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole and over half of the ecosystem’s national forests—though many hunters and the general public may not be aware. The Powder River Basin, notably, also spills northward across Wyoming’s border into Montana.  

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, along with Montana and Idaho, are said to be free of Chronic Wasting Disease but for how long?  Some scientists say the deadly disease is already here. Map showing the progression of CWD in the U.S. and Canada courtesy U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center

The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, along with Montana and Idaho, are said to be free of Chronic Wasting Disease but for how long? Some scientists say the deadly disease is already here. Map showing the progression of CWD in the U.S. and Canada courtesy U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center
Today, CWD endemic zones cover nearly all of Wyoming and, nationally, portions of 21 other states plus a couple of Canadian provinces.  No cases have yet turned up in Montana and Idaho but CWD is a disease that, like its peripatetic victims, does not recognize invisible state boundary lines.

Incurable, progressive, often slow to incubate, and except in the rarest of circumstances always-fatal, 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 at low-grade levels, spreading between animals in dribbles and drabs.

CWD causes individual victims to become emaciated with telltale symptoms: “vacant stares, drooping ears, stumbling movements and drooling”. Internal physiological effects can include transforming brains into the consistency of mushy Swiss cheese. Animals withering in the last phase of CWD behave and look remarkably similar to humans incapacitated in the final stages of severe dementia. Their haggard, bony appearance could also be mistaken for animals emaciated from hard winters.

Scientists say CWD can take years to assert full impact at a population level. It has been spreading steadily in individual animals westward across Wyoming after it was diagnosed in the southeastern corner of the state decades ago. 

Besides being poised to reach Montana and Idaho from infected migratory animals in Wyoming, CWD also is pressing southward toward Montana via infected wildlife from Alberta and Saskatchewan. At present, there currently are neither vaccines available to stop it nor curative medicines that can be dispensed to hosts having it.
Whether a person hunts and consumes big game or is among the countless millions of Americans who simply enjoy having healthy wildlife on the landscape, CWD is creating impacts that scientists say they are just beginning to comprehend.
The only hope for potentially dampening its impact, according to leading wildlife authorities, is taking actions that just happen to cut against the fundamental grain of how Wyoming has approached wildlife management for generations. In a nutshell it means halting century-old public feeding of wildlife and viewing predators, namely wolves, as allies in fighting diseases instead of as scourges that Wyoming would just as soon wipe off the landscape.

° ° °

The origin of CWD is inexact. Some believe it is related to a scrapie outbreak which afflicted domestic sheep and then jumped species. In 1967, CWD was affirmed among captive deer kept at a research facility near Fort Collins, Colorado and then spread into wild deer and elk herds in that state.

Wildlife experts say the prevalence of CWD in some southeast Wyoming mule deer herds already ranges between 20 and 45 percent. Most victims die within two years of becoming infected but can live for half a decade. CWD is more common in bucks than does and prevalence oscillates differently in deer than elk but some outbreaks of CWD in both captive deer and elk have been equally severe.

Whether a person hunts and consumes big game or is among the countless millions of Americans who simply enjoy having healthy wildlife on the landscape, CWD is creating impacts that scientists say they are just beginning to comprehend. 

Twenty years ago, Jim Posewitz, a revered sportsman in Montana and lifelong conservationist who worked for the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks, expressed concerns about CWD to me around the time that voters in his state went to the polls passing a ballot initiative to outlaw wildlife game farms.

Game farms are private facilities where wildlife is husbanded like livestock, sometimes to serve as trophies in canned hunting behind fences, sometimes to be used as breeding stock, or sold as meat to restaurants. Some horns from male deer and elk at game farms have been exported to Asian markets where they are marketed as traditional medicines and aphrodisiacs.

The campaign to ban game farms in Montana was prompted by rising concerns relating to diseases. One game farm deemed especially problematic was a fenced compound operated by Welch “Sonny” Brogan just outside of Gardiner, Montana near the northern border of Yellowstone National Park and right in the middle of a wild elk and bison migration corridor.

The late Mr. Brogan, who became known as “the granddaddy” of Montana game farms, was charged in 1989 with capturing wild elk and having poorly maintained fences that could result in captive elk escaping.  Brogan fought the charges but his conviction was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court in 1993.

The reason the fencing issue was so important is that Brogan at one point was accused of selling some of his captive elk to a game farm in Canada—animals that later became sickened with bovine tuberculosis, a virulent disease that not only kills wildlife but is a hazard to humans. An investigation resulted in Brogan’s facility being placed under quarantine and him ordered to pay $100,000 to the game farm with whom he did business. 

"The Offering", a painting by George Carlson

"The Offering", a painting by George Carlson
Around the same time as Montana’s ballot initiative, a Canadian biologist named Dr. Valerius Geist, who is today a professor emeritus in Environmental Science at the University of Calgary, was on the stump warning about the consequences of epizoonotic diseases flaring among captive animals in game farms throughout the Canadian prairie provinces. He and I had many long conversations and he warned that CWD was more frightening than any other malady he was tracking. 

A major scare arrived in 1999 with the discovery of nine captive CWD-infected elk at an “alternative livestock” facility near Philipsburg, Montana. For a time, some wondered if any had escaped to the wild. Geist’s jeremiads helped sway public opinion in Montana to realize the seriousness risk of disease.

Echoing Geist, Posewitz said two decades ago that “once, and if, CWD ever arrives in our wild deer and elk herds in Montana, all bets are off. You won’t be able to control it; it’s going to forever change how we think about those animals.”

Many believe the tipping point moment with CWD, predicted ominously by Posewitz and Geist, has arrived. Are natural resource agencies in Greater Yellowstone adequately prepared to deal with its onset?

With CWD now bearing down on Montana from two different directions, the state has beefed up its surveillance regimen. Since 1998, postmortem samples from more than 17,000 wild elk, deer and moose have been tested for CWD in Montana but no positives have yet turned up. Montana also encourages motorists who salvage road-killed game animals for their dinner table—yes, there’s a state law allowing people to do that— to turn in the heads of deer and elk recycled from highways for testing.

Most troubling to biologists is how CWD could affect wildlife in Greater Yellowstone already coping with the stresses of habitat loss caused by a rapidly-expanding footprint of human development, and by climate change transforming the ability of landscapes to support large numbers of wild ungulates.

To readers who don’t know, Greater Yellowstone, which overlaps the corners of northwestern Wyoming, southwest Montana and eastern Idaho, is a 22.5 million-acre region that, due to its migratory wildlife, is often compared to the wildlife-rich Serengeti region of eastern Africa. It is the most iconic and still ecologically intact wildland ecosystem in the Lower 48 and one of the best-known in the world.

But because of the way elk are controversially managed in western Wyoming, it represents a case study, scientists say, for how not to steward public wildlife in the face of an advancing pandemic.

Dr. Thomas Roffe, a veterinarian and former national chief of wildlife health for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told me this: if scientists were tasked with designing an experiment to create ideal conditions for a pandemic to take hold, involving a transmissible infectious disease in wildlife during winter when they are most stressed by the elements, one example would be having game farms. The other would be creating a complex of artificial feeding operations identical to those operating today in western Wyoming. 

Indeed, CWD has never arrived in a healthy, still-functioning wild ecosystem with so much going on in terms of interactions between predators and prey, sheer numbers of potential victims, and complicated migrations happening over long distances on a high-profile public stage with a global profile.

The stakes are high. Hundreds of thousands of wild elk, mule and white-tailed deer move in herds or small bands, circulating throughout Greater Yellowstone across jurisdictional boundaries of land management agencies, intermingling seasonally and dispersing again across huge, mind-boggling expanses of terrain. Those animals, in turn, come in contact with other herds up and down the northern Rockies.

The wild, healthy ungulate herds function like pumps of biomass flowing across the landscape, providing nourishment for a wide range of predators and scavengers, including grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and even rodents. 

Dr. Thomas Pringle, a molecular bio-geneticist and respected authority on CWD and prion diseases, said mammal-to-bird transmission is highly improbable. He also said that birds such as raptors, corvids and other avians are not carriers. Dr. Pringle has been vocal in his concerns about the reach and impact of prion diseases, and Mountain Journal will highlight his worries about transmission in subsequent parts of this special series.

The Wyoming feedgrounds, he and others say, represent a point of tightly-packed unnatural confluence for several herds in winter, meaning that if animals get sick there, they will carry diseases with them elsewhere. Similarly, if stricken animals arrive on the feedgrounds, there is a much stronger probability, given the notoriously high densities of animals, that they could be seeds to an outbreak. This is one of the golden rules of epidemiology.

In addition to Greater Yellowstone’s global reputation for hunting, non-lethal wildlife watching in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks alone is the anchor to a nature tourism industry estimated to be worth at least $1 billion annually to local economies. Wildlife watching supports a lot of businesses in every gateway community.

CWD is beginning to enter the Greater Yellowstone from the east and south. This is one of the ominous, urgent questions that speaks to why CWD is more than just a possible worry for hunters putting game meat in their freezers: 

What happens if, and when, elk, deer, and moose in Greater Yellowstone start dropping dead from CWD, whether in the valleys and geyser basins of Yellowstone Park in front of tourists, the middle of the Elk Refuge along busy U.S. Highway 191 in Jackson Hole, the flats of Grand Teton or even within the city limits of Bozeman, Cody, Lander and Rexburg?

Will dead animals be quickly retrieved to prevent them from causing accumulating environmental contamination? Will the carcasses be dumped in landfills or incinerated? Does it mean that every live deer, elk or moose that looks lean and weakened after surviving the winter will be treated as a possible CWD carrier?

How does having CWD-infected herds affect the public perception of wildlife?

It’s a grave prospect on the minds of Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk and his staff. Wenk, however, admits there is no plan, no coordinated strategy existing between state and federal agencies for how to confront CWD. 

The very government entity that was created to formulate regional strategies—the Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee—does not have a unified plan.

Apart from CWD’s deadly consequences for members of the deer family, concerns abound about CWD’s potential for crossing other species barriers. There is fear about it potentially infecting mammalian and avian predators and scavengers, ranging from grizzlies, wolves, coyotes and foxes to eagles, ravens, and magpies that feast upon dead animals. Yet the real wild card is what risk, if any, CWD and its possible mutations poses to human health? 

That risk appears to be remote, but it might or might not be.

Some scientists, like Dr. Don Davis, professor emeritus at Texas A & M University and a vocal defender of game farms in Texas where CWD is a growing issue, claim the risk is nominal, that raising the threat of CWD to human health is nothing more than media hyperbole. He wrote a couple of diatribes after media reports about the Canadian macaque study.

In a recent op-ed, Davis highlighted the important fact that there hasn’t been a single verified case of humans contracting CWD by eating an infected big game animal. “As a research scientist with 40 years of experience in the area of wildlife diseases, I have been regularly disappointed, disgusted, alarmed, and amazed at both the amount and frequency of alleged facts reported on CWD. These ‘facts’ are based entirely on totally unsubstantiated rumor or—even worse—on horribly misquoted science by misguided or misinformed individuals,” Davis wrote recently in an editorial widely circulated to newspapers by an organization called The Exotic Wildlife Foundation. 

Dr. Davis’ assessment, however, is far from universally shared by peers working in wildlife medicine, including bio-geneticist Pringle. In fact, people I spoke with say Davis' opinion would be in the minority.

A far greater danger is minimizing the seriousness of the possible threat, suggests Dr. Michael W. Miller, a senior wildlife veterinarian with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a noted CWD authority.  With prion diseases, increased likelihood of human infection is really a matter of a lot of people eating a lot of contaminated game meat. 

“For a long time, some have been clinging to the na├»ve hope that if we just ignore chronic wasting disease and do nothing, it will go away,” Dr. Miller told me. “The problem is that CWD has not gone away. It is not becoming rarer in the wild. In fact, it’s become measurably worse over time. It is becoming more prevalent in wildlife, not less.”

Miller, known for his cool-headed discussions about risk, acknowledges that he is concerned foremost about its impacts on wild ungulates and the domino effect of direct and indirect impacts it could set off for other species.

The spread of CWD in free-roaming North American wildlife is considered a new disease phenomenon, epizoologists say; in other words, it hasn’t been in the environment very long and given its brevity on this continent, there are many unknowns of how it will become ultimately manifested.

Unfortunately, the more that new information has emerged in recent years, the level of concern has risen, not fallen. Some contagious diseases over the course of time run their course, leave behind survivors that carry immunity and then die down.  Scrapie in domestic sheep is an example of that, Dr. Miller says. But CWD is accelerating in its geographic reach.

The agent that causes CWD is not a virus, bacteria, fungi or parasite—not a typical living organism— but misshapen proteins called prions without DNA and RNA structure that become harbored mostly in the brains and central nervous system of deer family victims.

As one researcher told me, “they [prions] are weird, they’re not like normal proteins and unlike viruses and bacteria they do not produce an immune response from the organisms they attack. We don’t know what activates them and we don’t know what the triggers are that could cause them to mutate, making them more conducive to move from one species to another.”  In this case, "mutation" means prions being altered in ways that increase the odds of transmission between wildlife, livestock, and people.

CWD is categorized among a general suite of neurological illnesses known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs).  In cattle (and other hooved animals). the disease is grouped among a malady category called bovine spongiform encephalopathies or BSEs.

CWD, also nicknamed “mad deer” and “mad elk” diseases, is a cousin of scrapie (which targets domestic sheep). To claim, as some do, that CWD won’t proliferate within Greater Yellowstone deer and elk, and possibly represent a hazard to livestock or predators, which includes humans, is, in the opinion of experts I spoke with, to deny the reality of what has already been demonstrated elsewhere with prion diseases.

The best example of species barriers being breached with TSE prion diseases is found in Britain where around 200 humans who ate domestic cattle infected with Mad Cow died. The human version of Mad Cow Disease is a TSE called Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease and another, variant-strain Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Jacob, both of which are very rare.

British cattle were believed infected after the remains of sheep suffering from scrapie were ground up and blended with feed poured into their troughs. The Mad Cow scare, which made headlines and caused panic around the world, resulted in the depopulation and incineration of millions of domestic cows that were potentially exposed to sickened animals. It also elevated concerns about lasting environmental contamination in the ground, a worry later validated by an experiment in Wyoming.

Likely, millions of people in Britain and elsewhere came in contact with BSE-infected beef, hence the parallel to keep in mind with what Miller said about the likelihood of CWD transmission to people increasing with lots of hunters eating lots of contaminated game animals.

Were CWD to afflict humans, the most likely route of transmission would be from CWD-carrying wildlife infecting cattle or domestic sheep and then humans consuming those animals. There are no documented cases of prions shed by deer or elk infecting cattle. 

An advisory posted by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the nation’s premiere authority on infectious pathogens, states: “Concerns have been raised about the possible transmission of the CWD agent to domestic animals, such as cattle and sheep, which may come in contact with infected deer and elk or CWD-contaminated environments. If such transmissions were to occur, they would potentially increase the extent and frequency of human exposure to the CWD agent. In addition, passage of the agent through a secondary host could alter its infectious properties, increasing its potential for becoming more pathogenic to humans.”

Prions are notoriously hard biological particles to destroy. Cooking does not kill or immobilize them. They can remain actively infectious in the tissues and fluids of living and dead animals. They can also leach into the environment through feces and urine and, as the carcass of a dead animal decays, contaminate soils and water for long, indefinite periods of time.

Recent scientific studies in controlled settings also have shown that prions shed into the ground, especially in clay soils to which they bind, can even be taken up in living vegetation. And many believe that CWD prions could be dispersed more widely across landscapes by being bound up in alfalfa that is shipped far and wide as hay bales and then fed to livestock.

So, is it possible for CWD prions to mutate and thereby become transmittable from members of the deer family to people, or other creatures eating contaminated meat, or by merely ingesting infected brain, spinal fluids, plants and water? 

What about elk and deer that might appear healthy, but actually aren’t and are then consumed by people, or asymptomatic infected animals that come into contact with other animals being packaged at local meat processors? 

What are the odds that domestic livestock grazing on contaminated grass growing from contaminated soil, be it on public or private lands, could become infected?

The answers are that no one knows yet, but some of the emerging indicators keep the level of concern heightened. Uncertainty is why the CDC and World Health Organization have for years offered their cautions against human consumption of cervids that test positive for CWD. 

Whether actual risk of prion transmission to humans is low, as Dr. Davis suggests, or higher, if mutations occur enabling CWD to jump species, it is a calculation that individuals must make in eating game meat.

Although it is admittedly a small sample size, a dozen different people— (scientists, wildlife managers, and conservationists)—well versed in the research of CWD and who also hunt elk and deer, told me they would not feed even healthy big game coming out of a CWD-endemic area to their families. That hasn’t stopped deer hunters in Wisconsin (which we’ll get to later in this series)

Recent studies, like the research on macaques in Canada, suggest CWD jumping the species barrier to humans is possible. But Dr. Davis questions the techniques used in the studies and he points out that a similar earlier experiment demonstrated no linkage, a reference that will be explored in ensuing parts of this series.

While the risk of CWD prions infecting people is low, threats to wildlife and landscape, however, are not. Some have alluded to CWD’s arrival in Greater Yellowstone as a “ticking time bomb about to go off in the premiere wildland ecosystem in the Lower 48”.

BSE-related prions have demonstrated their ability to transcend boundaries between sheep and cattle, and across deer family members, and even from cattle to bison and, as demonstrated by Mad Cow, to people.

Undeniable, experts say, are the threats posed to wild ungulates. Ironically, the future health of Greater Yellowstone’s vaunted migratory ungulate herds is being jeopardized by the very government agencies whose duty it is to protect public wildlife from harm, says Lloyd Dorsey, conservation director with the Wyoming state chapter of the Sierra Club.

Even a federal court has found the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guilty of engaging in management malpractice and violating federal laws.

Ground zero for this prima facie argument is the National Elk Refuge home of the Jackson Elk Herd, the most famous wapiti herd in the world. The 24,700-acre Elk Refuge is administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, long touted as the top wildlife agency on the globe.

Nearby, in western Wyoming are the 22 feedgrounds run by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Artificial feeding of wildlife in ways that bunch animals in large numbers is considered a cardinal sin in modern wildlife management because of the ripe conditions it fosters for disease outbreaks.

At the Elk Refuge alone during the winter of 2017, more than 8,800 elk converged around artificial food rations given to them.  Combined with the state feedgrounds, upwards of 21,000 wild wapiti are congregated unnaturally together in western Wyoming, leaving them more vulnerable to catching not only CWD but bovine tuberculosis, Septicemic pasteurellosis and hoof rot. High rates of brucellosis infection among wild elk nourished at feedgrounds prove the point.

Wyoming for a long, long time has justified its refusal to close down feedgrounds by, more or less, portraying CWD as merely a hypothetical risk.

In August 2004, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department released what it called a comprehensive white paper titled “Elk Feedgrounds in Wyoming”. 

Its authors were: Ron Dean, Mark Gocke, Bernie Holz, Steve Kilpatrick, Dr. Terry Kreeger, Brandon Scurlock, Scott Smith, Dr. E. T. Thorne, and Scott Werbelow. “Many people are concerned that elk on feedgrounds may mimic the circumstances of elk in captivity and suggest that feedgrounds will result in high CWD prevalence resulting in drastic population declines as implicated by the disease models. Although this may happen, a perfectly acceptable alternative hypothesis is that CWD will have little or no impact on elk populations based on the known low prevalence rates for CWD in wild elk. Although there are many opinions, no one knows what will happen if elk on feedgrounds become infected with CWD.”

Wyoming politicians and associates have demonstrated their disdain for scientists in federal agencies raising the certainty of CWD, and administrators in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have sent a clear unwritten message down the ranks that dissent—i.e. staffers who say feedgrounds should be shuttered— will not be tolerated.

Jackson Hole valley folk, some of whom hail from the same families who in the 1930s and 1940s fought creation of Grand Teton National Park, have also taken out full-page ads in the local newspaper condemning fellow citizens and public servants who speak a different reality that does not comport with their own world view and economic self-interest.  

Bruce Smith, who spent decades at the National Elk Refuge rising to the rank of senior biologist and who wrote an acclaimed book, “Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Politics of Our National Elk Herd”, dared on several occasions to publicly declare the era of artificially feeding elk has to end. That was met by calls for his firing as a civil servant and later as an alleged speaker of heresy in local newspaper ads. 

If Wyoming believes it will be able to market its way out of a CWD crisis or deny culpability for a problem it has known is coming, Smith told me recently, then it is in for a rude awakening. This isn’t just any region. It is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, with Yellowstone National Park at its wild heart. It has a national constituency. The public will demand answers and accountability; citizens will want to know the names of who was in charge and did little to prevent disaster from happening.

Next—Part 2 in the series, Greater Yellowstone's Coming Plague: With The Arrival Of Chronic Wasting Disease Imminent, Is Government Mismanagement Threatening The Health Of Ecosystem Elk Herds And Humans?

Todd Wilkinson
About Todd Wilkinson

Todd Wilkinson is an American author and journalist proudly trained in the old school tradition of asking hard questions and pressing for honest answers. For more on his career, click below.
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