Due to the regular amending of regulations in Saskatchewan, it is recommended that before hunting you check these CWD regulations, as well as those of any other states or provinces in which you will be hunting or traveling through while transporting cervid carcasses. The contact information for Saskatchewan can be seen below:
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After a troubled decade, it’s time Ottawa and the provinces undertook a serious review of the game farming industry.
More than 600 farmers in Alberta and more than 500 in Saskatchewan have put up tall wire fences and run domesticated elk and white-tailed deer in an effort to diversify their farms.
But the industry’s economics, dubious from the outset, have proven highly volatile. The value of breeding stock has plummeted from the early days. Elk farmers are still shut out of traditional elk-velvet aphrodisiac markets in the Far East because of lingering worries about disease. And so far, no big market for elk meat is materializing.
Raising elk in captivity has introduced new disease — chronic-wasting disease — to Alberta and Saskatchewan. Conservationists warned of this danger in the 1980s, and there are signs it may have been passed on to wild animals, with a potential major threat to wildlife.
Last week, there was another troubling development.
Four Saskatchewan farms, the main source of the CWD outbreak, are so contaminated that some agriculture uses of some of the land are prohibited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. That’s put a handful of farmers in a terrible bind, looking for more compensation or some way to start a new business on partly quarantined land.
It costs a lot of tax dollars to support this marginal industry. In the early 1990s, taxpayers spent $25 million in compensation fees alone to farmers for animals slaughtered to control a tuberculosis outbreak that destroyed about half the fledgling Alberta herd.
So far, the fight against CWD in elk has cost $33 million to compensate farmers, mainly in Saskatchewan. (CWD is in the same disease family as “mad cow disease,” though there’s no evidence so far that it can be transmitted to humans.)
The industry has been based on a lot of hope and “limited science,” as government officials call it. But that simply opens the door to potential environmental problems. Since the CWD organism is very difficult to eradicate, it’s not known what it would take to clean infected land on Saskatchewan farms. Do we really want to see land restrictions as a long-term solution?
The four Saskatchewan farmers are barred from raising cattle on parts of their land.
While there is yet no evidence that CWD spreads to cattle, the CFIA is absolutely right to use the utmost caution. Transfer of the disease to cattle would be a major disaster for the cattle industry.
CFIA also told the four farmers they could grow hay as long as they do not feed it to deer or elk. They can grow grain, but not sell it to the local elevator. They must keep their high fences up to prevent wild deer and elk from wandering onto the contaminated land.
It all seems very complicated, and a bit like farming with one hand tied behind your back. It hardly gives confidence in the ability to control this disease.
Here in Alberta, CWD has been found on only one elk farm (compared to 40 in Saskatchewan). But Alberta was the first place in Canada to see the disease turn up on a white-tailed deer farm. The entire herd has not been tested, so it is unclear how widespread the disease is.
George Luterbacher, veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Winnipeg, is optimistic the disease can be controlled. With only a handful of CWD outbreaks last year compared to last, he says, disease control measures are working, though he adds there is a two to three-year incubation period.
Alberta’s chief veterinarian, Gerald Ollis, says there is little risk of the disease being passed on to cattle, although he admits there are many unknowns when it comes to CWD.
Last fall, elk farmers pinned their hopes for revival on hunt farms to create a market for their animals. Due to disease concerns, Alberta farmers are banned from selling into U.S. and Saskatchewan hunt farms. Wisely, the Alberta government refused to approve game farms, which are out of step with Alberta attitudes to wildlife and hunting.
With little market for meat, the velvet market still elusive, and no hunt farms, it’s time to ask whether this is an industry with a viable economic future.
Global trends in agriculture put consumer and food safety at the heart of public policy. Canada’s future depends on its reputation for high-quality, disease-free product. Game farming so far appears to run against that.
Some jurisdictions refused to get into game farming. The Yukon rejected the industry after doing an economic analysis. Wyoming turned it down because of the threat to the wildlife, to hunting, and to game-viewing activities. In 2000, Montana banned game ranching.
Commercializing wildlife has many problems. Trying to devise environmental and farm-safety practices on the basis of limited science about disease is unsound. It’s unlikely this industry is worth the very real risks. At the very least, a public review is in order.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has banned four former Saskatchewan elk farmers from growing grain or raising livestock because their land may harbour chronic wasting disease organisms.
They’re among 40 farms in Saskatchewan where elk tested positive for the fatal brain-wasting disease after a diseased elk was imported from South Dakota in 1989. It spread when offspring of the infected elk were sold and re-sold among 39 other farms.
Federal veterinarians have killed about 8,300 elk on the 40 Saskatchewan farms — and one Alberta farm — to try eradicate the disease. It has cost the federal government $33 million to compensate the farmers for loss of their elk and for disposal costs, said Dr. Lynn Bates, of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Winnipeg.
She told a weekend conference in Nisku the four Saskatchewan farms are banned from raising any livestock or growing grain until it can be proven that deer or elk won’t become re-infected.
The ban on grain is to ensure it doesn’t end up in animal feed.
There have never been any proven cases of the disease in humans and it has only shown up in elk and deer.
But while there’s no evidence that cattle or other livestock may get chronic wasting disease, it’s not entirely ruled out.
Chronic wasting disease is believed to be spread not by a bacteria or virus but by abnormal cellular proteins called prions.
The disease is related to other brain-wasting diseases that include scrapie in sheep and mad cow disease.
“The science at this time says that the environment may act as a source of the prions in a situation where you have the infection long-term,” Bates said.
Buildings and equipment at the farms have been disinfected and soil has been removed from where elk congregated, she said. But removing soil from an entire farm is impractical.
The only way the four farms could be farmed again is to stock the land with elk or deer for at least four years to see if they become infected, Bates said.
But that would be expensive and there’s no money available to do it, she said, nor is there any provision to compensate farmers prohibited from raising crops.
She refused to identify any of the farms. But elk farmer Dale Alsager, from near Maidstone, Sask., said he lives near one of them. Owners have been left with no way out, he said.
Rather than leave them in limbo, he said, the food inspection agency should eliminate the possibility of the disease re-emerging on their land. And they should be compensated for being unable to grow crops, he added.
Alsager is among a group of hard-hit Alberta and Saskatchewan game farmers who are suing the federal government for damages for having encouraged them to get into game farming.
Since chronic wasting disease was identified in Saskatchewan and Alberta, prices for farmed elk and deer have collapsed.
South Korea halted imports of elk products from North America and the U.S. halted sales of trophy deer and elk to U.S. hunt farms. Saskatchewan has barred imports of male Alberta deer and elk to its hunt farms.
Some drought-stricken farmers short of feed can’t even give their deer or elk away.
The spread of lethal chronic-wasting disease to a third species of wildlife in Canada has scientists calling for a wide-ranging inquiry into elk- and deer-farming industry.
The highly contagious so-called mad-elk disease was found last week in a white-tailed deer on an Alberta game farm. Over the past two years, it has been confirmed in 230 elk on 40 farms in Saskatchewan, and in four wild mule deer in Saskatchewan, said George Luterbach of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Scientists fear that the fatal brain disease is poised to spread into more domesticated herds and wild populations of elk and deer, as it has in parts of the United States, where a state of emergency has been declared.
Several criminal investigations in North America into the trading of game-farm elk and deer have heightened concern among scientists that illegal trading of the animals has taken place, possibly on a large scale over a long time.
When records are missing, it is difficult for enforcement officers to trace the origin of an infected animal and animals with which it has had contact.
Valerius Geist, a biologist and expert on chronic-wasting disease, said the outbreak in Western Canada shows that a judicial inquiry is needed to examine the movements of domesticated elk and deer and their health records.
Chronic-wasting disease is in the same family of lethal brain ailments as bovine spongiform encephalopathy — the so-called mad-cow disease. It is not clear whether an infected elk or deer can pass the disease to humans or cattle. Medical experts said the possibility is remote.
But scientists are alarmed because the disease is spreading, even as the federal government is in the midst of an all-out campaign to eradicate it.
The disease was in an advanced state when it was found in the brain of a dead four-year-old deer on a game farm in Alberta last week, said Dr. Luterbach, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s chief veterinarian of animal health and production in Western Canada.
The earlier instances of the disease, on the farms in Saskatchewan, led the government to order every animal on each farm killed — 8,500 elk, Dr. Luterbach said. Compensation to farmers has cost the government $33-million.
One case of the disease was found in a farmed elk in Alberta in April.
The most recent figures show there were 155,000 farmed elk and deer in Canada in November, 2001, said Serge Buy, executive director of the Canadian Cervid Council.
Because the illness has spread to a third species, some elk and deer farmers are prohibited from selling and moving their animals for three weeks while officials investigate the latest case.
The prohibition is further cause for concern, said Darrel Rowledge, a director of Alliance for Public Wildlife in Calgary. Farmers in drought-stricken Alberta have been struggling to feed their animals. Mr. Rowledge and other conservationists worry that desperate farmers will be tempted to let the animals loose, although that is illegal.
If any domesticated animal is infected with chronic-wasting disease, freeing it would increase the chance that the disease could spread to wild animals.
Elk and deer are notorious for jumping fences. Officials tracking pen mates of the infected white-tailed deer have discovered some missing.
Larry Hrycun, an elk farmer near Thorhild, Alta., said he has difficulty finding feed for his animals. He said some elk and deer farmers are in such trouble they are considering suing the federal government for allowing diseased animals into the country from the United States. “What are they going to say? ‘Whoops?’ “
He said the industry faces so many problems that if the government were to shut it down tomorrow, he would not argue against it.
Recent criminal investigations into the trading of game-farm elk and deer have highlighted the potential for problems in tracking infected animals.
Handling heads is not how most people make their living. But, for local Wildlife Technician Dwight Dobson, it’s just another day at the office.
He is part of a province wide effort to control Chronic Wasting Disease. To help facilitate that, the Department of Environment is requesting that all hunters submit head samples of white-tailed deer, and mule deer, to their local Saskatchewan Environment office.
In Maple Creek, those offices are located at the Rural Service Centre, on Harder Street.
Once hunters bring their sample to the centre, Saskatchewan Environment staff will forward the head to the University of Saskatchewan where it will be tested.
So far, four deer have tested positive for the disease in the province — three in the Manito Sandhills area near Lloydminster, and one North of Swift Current, in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park.
Another possible positive test in Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park is currently under investigation.
The incident at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park was the first time that a positive result was found outside of the Lloydminster area, and it sparked the call for province wide testing.
Saskatchewan Environment’s Kevin Omoth feels that the effort of obtaining samples from across the province is justified.
[Saskatchewan Environment] is guardedly optimistic that we won’t find evidence of the disease outside of the current locations.”
That said, before [the positive results at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park] we were optimistic that we wouldn’t find it outside of the Lloydminster area.”
If it is out there we need to know so that we can aggressively take measures to control it.”
The most effective way to control the spread of the disease is to destroy as many animals as possible within a 6 km radius of the contaminated area.
That type of aggressive measures is necessary because chronic wasting disease has the potential to destroy entire populations of deer.
The disease, which causes affected animals to gradually lose body function, is always fatal and has no know cure.
Omoth understands that it might be inconvenient for hunters to provide samples. However, he feels the benefit of doing so should be obvious.
This is a disease that affects wild deer.”
These tests can help us make sure that this disease does not kill more deer.”
In Omoth’s mind, eradicating Chronic Wasting Disease is important despite the fact that it has no known effect on humans.
In Maple Creek, the response to the call for samples has been slowly building.
Dobson encourages local hunters to continue bringing in their samples.
We’ve been lucky in that all of our tests have been negative.”
However, our sample isn’t as big as it could be.”
CARNDUFF — Another wild mule deer is suspected of having Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Saskatchewan.
The positive test result came from a mule deer shot this fall southeast of Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park near Stewart Valley. The sample from the two-year-old mule deer buck has been sent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) lab in Ontario for confirmation.
Dr. Trent Bollinger, a researcher at the Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre, says the latest case provides even more reason for hunters to turn in deer heads. “We have focused on areas where we had some cases. We need to look province-wide. It is important to find out where this disease is found,” Dr. Bollinger said.
CWD is a progressive, fatal disease that affects the nervous system of members of the deer family. It is known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathy or TSE. How the disease is spread is not known and there is no treatment or vaccine currently available to prevent the disease.
Meanwhile, the whitetail rifle season starts on Monday for the southern part of the province.
Lorne Scott, executive director with the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation, believes CWD will impact the hunting industry.
“It could have a significant impact on the hunting industry if more animals are discovered …” Scott said.
Over the past four years Saskatchewan Environment has tested approximately 5,500 samples from across the province.