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Elk Program Still a Bright Spot in Agriculture
Domestic Elk Industry can Survive if Negative Reports Cease

CANDO, N.D. - Will elk ranchers face the same demise as the emu? Well, with a willing accomplice in the media, there are many who would hope so. I am greatly disappointed with a publication like Agweek that has published numerous reports over the last several months about the problems with chronic wasting disease in deer and elk but has not made any effort to interview producers to see if there is any positive news in regard to this issue. Certainly, the disaster of depopulating elk herds in Colorado is news but how about the positive aspect that the industry now is free of the disease and should have a bright future?

My wife and I started looking for alternative ventures about six years ago to supplement our farm income. We researched several and decided that elk ranching looked like an industry with great promise. We started small and began to learn how to manage an elk heard. Today, we have about 100 head and certainly the industry has had some struggles, but we have no regrets.

Negative press

One of the most frustrating aspects of this new venture is the continual barrage of negative press. Contrary to the implication of most print media, elk are a very healthy and hearty animal with very few disease problems. Certainly, CWD is a major concern, but more damage is being done to our industry by the press than the disease itself. Often, the press that we receive is authored by someone with a bias, which results in false assumptions and inaccuracies that are reported as facts. Case in point, the Mar. 18 issue, page 27, it was reported that "CWD has infected elk ranches in North Dakota." This is absolutely incorrect.

Four years ago when the first diagnosis of CWD were reported in other states, the North Dakota Elk Growers Association, in cooperation with the North Dkaota Board of Animal Health, began a mandatory surveillance program. This required the testing of brain tissue from every elk older than 12 months of age that was killed or died for any reason. To date, we have submitted more than 500 samples of which none has been positive. This is not the first time that North Dakota has been implicated in this issue. I call that shoddy journalism. Something that serious and devastating to an agricultural industry should not be reported when the facts are readily available from the Department of Animal Health.

I could quote numerous other incidents where game farms are implicated in the spread of CWD. The fact is that every case of the disease that has occurred on a game farm can be traced back to either the Department of Wildlife research facility in Colorado or to likely contamination from the wild.

It is this type of reporting that swayed the public to pass an initiative in Montana to basically put game ranchers out of business. I am confident that North Dakotans are smarter than to be duped by a faction of radicals that have taken it upon themselves to put game farmers out of business because they want to "protect wildlife" from a disease that originated in the wild and probably will be in the wild for many years.

The domestic elk industry has endured a severe problem with CWD. With the help of an indemnity program, the disease has been cleaned out of our domestic herds. I believe elk production still is one of the bright spots in agriculture today. We can beat disease with good science and good sense; we have done it before with many other such problems. I'm not sure we can survive the media if they continue to report distortions with impunity.

Editor's Note: Wagenman is a Cando, N.D., farmer, past president of the North Dakota Elk Growers Association and current member of Elk Advisory Committee to North Dakota Board of Animal health.



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