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 with Rob Miskosky

CWD: Alberta's Failure

When former Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) Minister Ted Morton cancelled Alberta’s CWD cull program in January of 2009, it was to “analyze the results and reassess the program”, or so we were led to believe.

However, the program was most likely ended because of a handful of individuals that brought about a campaign of misinformation that included graphic images like the one on this page. This group was more concerned about protecting its own interests, the rest of the province be damned. It was sensationalism at its finest.

What followed was a public uproar and soon politicians were looking for a way out. Unfortunately, the only way out was to end the winter culling portion of the program, even though an external panel of wildlife disease experts recommended SRD stay the course. We were warned of the consequences, by not only our own wildlife disease specialists, but also by those from other jurisdictions if the disease was left to run its course.

Photos like this one brought an end to Alberta’s CWD
cull program after circulating the Internet.
But many argued the cull program wouldn’t stop the spread of CWD regardless of the number of deer being removed. That it was just avoiding the inevitable, even though culling was showing that the disease was being contained, perhaps even being removed in targeted areas.

Opponents argued that hunters should be utilized to the fullest extent to remove deer in infected areas. Hunters would do the job! Only problem is, hunters haven’t been doing the job, at least not to the extent required.

Unlike Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions where the disease has become endemic, Alberta was proving up a track record that was showing CWD could be contained. We were preventing the “endemic” label from being applied to the province, and the importance of this cannot be overstated.

According to information provided by the CWD Alliance, “Models of CWD epidemic dynamics suggest early, aggressive intervention via selective culling or more generalized population reduction show the greatest promise of preventing new endemic foci from being established.”

Back in 1996, when asked what to do if CWD was ever confirmed outside of fences and in public wildlife, CWD expert, the late Beth Williams said, “Cut wider and deeper than you ever think necessary. The deer will come back; but you’ll get one chance. If CWD gets established, you’ll have it for a very long time.”

And that appears to be exactly what is happening, chronic wasting disease is on the move, traveling river valleys and setting up Alberta’s deer herd for a fall.

And the “endemic” label is getting closer to being applied.

For the last two years, the government has relied on an anemic hunter surveillance program to track the disease. Collecting the heads of hunter-killed deer in specific WMUs where past cases have been found, is exactly what Saskatchewan has been doing without success for several years. Without a winter cull program to reduce deer densities in infected areas, control is non-existent.

And this is where the failure of the program begins to stand out. Tracking the disease is equal to doing little or nothing at all. Watching the disease move westward, as we were warned it would, proves nothing.

The latest pinpoints on a map shows that CWD will soon be on Calgary’s doorstep, perhaps within the next few years.

According to SRD, “A cluster of infected deer has been found north and west of Dinosaur Provincial Park in WMU 152—a significant extension of the disease westward along the Red Deer River.”

And, “Of particular significance, the positive yearling mule deer buck was the first case of CWD found in the North Saskatchewan River valley in Alberta. This is strong evidence of recent expansion of the disease into or within the valley.”

In the February 2008 “Peer Review” of Alberta’s CWD Management Plan, it was written, “Certainly, the success of deer population reduction as a CWD control strategy is not guaranteed. However, the lack of proof cannot be used to justify inaction by agencies charged with conserving valuable natural resources: Increased infection rates and geographic spread of CWD are the anticipated consequences without a control effort. Additionally, the applications of CWD control tools that may be developed in the distant future (e.g., vaccination, targeted identification and culling of only CWD positive deer) will be much easier with lower density deer populations and geographically smaller endemic foci of CWD.”

Unfortunately, when Alberta decided to put an end to its culling program, it also put an end to its only chance of staying off the endemic list. ■

After several years of contributions to the Alberta Outdoorsmen, retired Fish & Wildlife officer and best-selling author, Bob Adams, has decided it is time to put away his pen.

Bob’s “The Lighter Side” column has brought readers many laughs and smiles over the years and Bob’s tales of misadventure will be sorely missed.

I would personally like to thank Bob for allowing me the pleasure of working with him and for his contributions in helping this magazine grow as it has.

I know Bob has a passion for travel and bird watching, and I imagine he will be found in some of the stranger parts of the world looking for some of the strangest of our feathered friends.

All the best Bob, enjoy yourself, you’ve earned it. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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