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From: TSS ()
Subject: MAD-ELK Coalition aim to shut down captive elk-ranching industry
Date: January 4, 2007 at 8:28 am PST

January 4, 2007
Groups aim to shut down captive elk-ranching industry
By Mark Freeman
Mail Tribune
The unlikely bedfellows of animal-rights and hunting groups again are taking a collective run at closing Oregon's captive elk-ranching industry over fears the exotic herds threaten wild elk populations.

But this time, the so-called MAD-elk Coalition has found fresh wind in its sails thanks to the misfortunes of an Idaho elk rancher whose animals escaped last summer, threatening the health and gene pool of Yellowstone's storied elk.

Backers say they don't want an Oregon ranch to repeat the escape of more than 100 exotic elk in Idaho, where the state's governor has ordered the wayward animals shot before they can interbreed with native elk.

Now the coalition here has support from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in calling for the drafting of new rules that would increase fencing restrictions on the remaining 16 elk ranches in Oregon and ban any transfers of ranching licenses.

That would mean current ranches would be further isolated from any contact with wild elk. Eventually, the practice of raising elk for meat and antler sales here would eventually disappear when current ranchers die or fold their businesses.

"We'd like to see them out of business entirely because the threat to wildlife is so high," says Jan Wilson, a Eugene attorney and member of the coalition, which includes the Humane Society of the United States as well as the Oregon Hunters Association and several preservation groups.

"I think the Idaho situation ... shows that the risk is real and that it can happen anywhere," Wilson says. "We always know there is the potential for an escape."

The group, which draws its name from Mad Cow Disease — a bovine version of chronic wasting disease found in some captive elk throughout the West — has formally petitioned the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to consider new fencing rules and the ban on license transfers.

Double fences would provide an added protection from escape as well as remove any likelihood of nose-to-nose contact between wild and domestic elk. Nose-to-nose contact is one way elk can spread CWD, tuberculosis or other diseases that can devastate herds.

The coalition also filed a second petition seeking to phase out the industry entirely over the next five years by no longer re-issuing elk-ranching licenses when the current licenses expire.

When the commission takes up the petitions Jan. 12 in Salem, ODFW biologists will support exploring new restrictions.

However, the agency is not supporting the five-year phase-out period that would see elk-ranching licenses disappear here by 2012.

The commission 13 years ago capped the number of so-called "cervid" ranching permits at 16, the number of active licenses at that time. Those included an elk farm now located in the Gold Ray Estates area as well as one in rural Central Point, both of which currently have licenses.

At that time double-fencing was just recommended, not required.

This time, agency biologists say cases like the Idaho escape show that single fences alone aren't enough to keep non-native elk completely segregated from native animals.

"I think the department's concern is how they could potentially affect native wildlife," says Larry Cooper, assistant administrator of the ODFW's Wildlife Division. "The threat's always there. That's true."

It doesn't ring true to Clackamas County elk rancher Bill McCamman, who believes the threat to native elk is wildly exaggerated. He also considers the proposed changes too Draconian, especially in light of only isolated problems like the Idaho dilemma.

"It's like one person speeds and everybody has their driver's license taken away," McCamman says. "It's ludicrous."

McCamman says the state should buy him and other ranchers out if they want to end cervid ranching here, not just regulate the industry literally to death.

"They say it's a bigger threat now than ever before, but I don't see it," McCamman says.

"If it's a real threat — and I don't think it is — then get rid of all of us right now," McCamman says. "But prove it's a threat."

If the commission accepts the petition as expected, it will order ODFW biologists to draft proposed rules. Those would include specific fencing requirements, deadlines for any required construction and even penalties for violations, Cooper says.

"We haven't even been told to do anything yet," Cooper says. "We're looking down the road, but we're just in the first few steps just yet.

Any changes could come from a commission vote after public review and comment that surely will swirl around the Idaho dilemma.

"Idaho is an impetus for Oregon to take action," says Kelly Peterson, HSUS's Oregon program coordinator. "We don't really want to wait for a crisis."

So far, Oregon has sidestepped CWD outbreaks found in both exotic and native herds elsewhere, thanks largely to bans on imported big-game body parts from CWD states and curbs on importation of exotic elk species.

But the Idaho escape has put elk-ranching into the cross-hairs of opponents like never before, aligning animal-rights and hunting groups like few issues can.

"It's a diverse group, but the group believes now would be the time to phase this out," says lobbyist Al Elkins, who represents the Medford-based OHA on the coalition.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

Commentary


http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2007/0104/sport/stories/cervidpetition-freecol.htm

http://www.oregonhunters.org/OHAtrackerDec061.pdf

http://www.oregonhunters.org/trackerNov061.pdf


TSS





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