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Message Title: High Risk Elk Restoration Projects
Author: Autry  Posted: 01\16\2007 17:13
Location: TN
High Risk Elk Restoration Projects by State Wildlife Agencies and the RMEF
submitted by David L. Autry

In 2000, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) began an elk restoration project for Tennessee similar to what a few other eastern states had done in order to bring elk back to areas that they had once inhabited. Over the next three years, elk were imported in from Land Between the Lakes (LBL) in Kentucky and Elk Island in Alberta Canada. These elk were imported into TN without meeting the TN Department of Agriculture's rules and regulations for importation regarding Tuberculosis (TB). State regulations require elk to be obtained from a herd that has had a whole herd TB test or the animals to be imported have to have two negative TB test preformed at least 90 days apart before entry into the state. These elk were allowed to be imported with only 1 TB test and there were no whole herd TB test preformed.

The elk that were imported from Elk Island and LBL did not meet TN CWD monitoring requirements either but still they were allowed to be imported. In researching this situation, I learned that the Kentucky State Vet. had issued and signed a letter stating something to the effect that he had viewed the herd at LBL and was confident that the LBL herd did not have CWD. That is absolutely amazing, as no live animal test has been approved and yet this Vet. can diagnose CWD infected animals just by sight.

CWD has been diagnosed in at least three wild mule deer about 100 miles from Elk Island,, and since there is nose to nose contact at the fence line plus animals commonly come and go over the fence,, the Elk Island herd in Alberta Canada is unsafe for relocation and restoration. The elk at LBL originated from the Elk Island herd and that fact plus the fact that the LBL herd has not been properly monitored for CWD since their relocation to Kentucky, this makes the LBL herd unsafe as well.

When the general public learned of what had transpired and criticized TWRA, TWRA personnel responded by saying that the elk that they had imported met more rigid requirements than the elk that had been imported by farmers. While there is a little truth to this, it is very misleading because the more rigid requirements that TWRA were referring to was the TWRA imported elk were checked for fleas, ticks and chiggers. Ain't that a hoot!

As time went on, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) became more of a concern for Tennessee and other states so most if not all of the elk restorations projects around the country were stopped due to the fear of possibly spreading CWD to areas that were assumed to be CWD free. This fear of CWD ceased in late 2006 when TWRA and the RMEF learned of the proposed new USDA CWD program which would preempt state rules and regulations and put a stop to these high risk elk restoration projects that do not meet CWD monitoring requirements. If adopted as written, the new USDA CWD rules and regulations would prevent states from simply issuing a wavier to their state wildlife agencies allowing them to import these high risk elk that do not meet import requirements.

In the fall of 2006, TWRA's fear shifted from the possible spread of CWD to the possible spread of Federal Government rules preventing them from obtaining these cheap elk from places like Elk Island and Land Between the Lakes that can't meet the import regulations in regard to disease issues such as TB and CWD.

TWRA is currently making an aggressive attempt to obtain these cheap unsafe elk before the USDA can finalize their new CWD program that will preempt state rules and regulations. TWRA and a few others that can only see dollar signs have pressured the TN Commissioner of Agriculture into signing a wavier which will allow TWRA and the RMEF to import these high risk elk that do not meet TN's rules and regulations. It seems that greed out weighs common sense because since TWRA and the RMEF developed a scheme that will generate somewhere between $200,000.00 and $400,000.00 in the sale of four elk bulls during the 2008 TN hunting season, TWRA is willing to bend or break any rule and jeopardize our wild deer herd plus our livestock with the possibility of TB and CWD just to line their coffers with more surplus cash.

This situation will not only affect Tennessee but could easily affect any or all of the surrounding states if TB, CWD or other diseases are imported with these elk.

It is time that State Wildlife Agencies are held accountable for their actions and it is also time for them to have to meet the same rules and regulations that farmers have had to meet for years. If there is any variances in the rules and regulations for these State Wildlife Agencies, they should be held to more rigid standards and not less rigid standards than the farmers who import the same species because after all State Wildlife Agencies will release their imported animals into the wild to roam wherever they please over a large unrestricted area where they will come in contact with other wildlife and livestock so the possibility of the spread of disease is much greater from these animals than the ones imported by farmers who will keep their animals confined behind a high fence and be able to account for each one of them with little or no contact to other animals except those owned by that farmer.