Friday, June 06, 2008

NEW ZEALAND NEWS: RFID Tags for All Farmed Deer By 2011

Can the U.S. be far behind? Sadly, yes.

New Zealand's Stuff has reported that by 2011 all cattle and deer on the island nation of four million people are likely to be RFID tagged. The initiative is part of a multimillion dollar allocation by the New Zealand government to strengthen biosecurity protections.

While there are already a dozen RFID trials underway at farms around the country, there is as yet no centralized, national database to track tagged animals. This according to Ian Corney, chair of the National Animal Identification and Tracing project and a farmer himself. Clearly such a database is necessary for livestock tracking to be effective. "What it means, now, is the traceability database can get built and we can get on with the job," Corney was quoted in reference to the new government funding.

Corney indicated that the tagging will be essentially mandatory but that there will not be new legislation for it. "There are several mechanisms that can be worked around," he said.

The total biosecurity allocation is NZ$23.3 million, or roughly US$19 million. The money for the animal tagging will be a subset of that. In addition to containing the outbreak of disease, predicted benefits from the RFID system include improved livestock management for farmers, as well as the ability to present consumers with more information about where their meat comes from.

Cattle are slated to be tagged first, with deer to follow. Depending on the success of the system, other animals could be tagged after that, including sheep (no small feat given the nation's claim that sheep outnumber people ten-to-one).


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

COLORADO NEWS: Winter Feeding of Elk a "Success"

While 90% of the elk survived the winter, the feeding also weakened the gene pool and increased the population's susceptibility to disease.

KUSA – The Colorado Division of Wildlife is counting last winter's deer feeding program in the Gunnison Valley a tremendous success.

Extremely heavy snow all winter kept deer in the area from reaching normal forage, according to the DOW.

More than 200 DOW volunteers and staff provided food for much of the winter. The cost of the feeding program was approximately $1.5 million.

According to a DOW spokesperson, they were able to feed about 9,600 deer in the valley, saving more than 90 percent of the population.

DOW was unable to reach all the deer in the valley during last winter's heavy snow storms because many were in inaccessible areas.

The number of 2008 fall hunting licenses for doe mule deer will be extremely limited in the Gunnison Valley. DOW is using caution this season to ensure a healthy, stable population of deer.

Division of Wildlife's winter feeding program in the Eagle valley was also a success. Licenses in the Eagle Valley area will not be cut back as dramatically as in the Gunnison Valley.


WYOMING NEWS: Lawsuit Filed to Block Feeding Elk

Environmentalists filed a lawsuit on Tuesday in an effort to stop a federal wildlife refuge in Wyoming from continuing its longtime practice of feeding wild elk. They say such feeding could lead to or worsen an outbreak of chronic wasting disease in the large wildlife populations around Yellowstone National Park.

Chronic wasting disease causes brain lesions in elk and deer that result in neurological damage and death. Animals with the disease must be killed to avoid spreading it, but there is no evidence it can be passed to humans by exposure although more research is being done.

Discovered in a Colorado research facility in the 1960s, chronic wasting disease has forced biologists to kill hundreds of infected wild deer from Wisconsin to Wyoming and thousands of others that are not infected to keep the disease from spreading.

Chronic wasting disease has been found just 70 or so miles from the ecosystem that includes the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyo., and Yellowstone National Park, worrying environmentalists that it could sicken and kill animals in and around the park.

Wildlife biologists warn that feeding the animals that crowd together at the National Elk Refuge and at 22 other state feeding grounds in Wyoming is likely to worsen any outbreak of chronic wasting disease. Conditions at feed lots increase disease rates up to 10 times those found in the wild because diseases are passed rapidly among animals in close contact.

“If you crowd animals together, you’ll increase the probability of transmission,” said Markus Peterson, a wildlife-disease scientist from Texas A&M University. “They really need to rethink the feeding of elk in Wyoming.”

Environmentalists and others say the crowding of elk into the refuge at Jackson has sharply altered natural conditions. About 8,300 elk winter there.

“Basically, we’ve got way too many animals on too small an area for too long a time,” said Barry Reiswig, a retired refuge manager who now lives near Cody, Wyo. “They’re way over the elk refuge’s carrying capacity.”

The refuge’s current manager, Steve Kallin, said he had not seen the lawsuit. Asked about concern that feeding the elk could foster disease, Mr. Kallin said, “We’re looking at managing to minimize that potential.”

Wyoming’s economy would be affected by ending the feeding of elk at the refuge, which has become a tourist attraction. Last winter more than 25,000 people paid $16 each to ride on sleighs pulled by horses among herds of elk on snow-covered landscapes. In addition, ranchers do not want hungry wild elk competing with their cattle for food, and hunting outfitters want assurances that plenty of animals will be available for their clients to stalk.

The adjacent states of Montana and Idaho have banned the feeding of elk because of the risk of disease. Environmentalists said a plan completed by the refuge in 2007 acknowledged the seriousness of the threat, but did not recommend ending the feeding, which began a century ago during a harsh winter, to keep the elk from starvation.

If prions, the agents that cause chronic wasting disease, were to sweep through the refuge, experts say, they could live in the soil for decades and force the 25,000-acre refuge to close.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, Wyoming Outdoor Council and the National Wildlife Refuge Association, was against only the National Elk Refuge, and not the State of Wyoming, because the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act requires that wildlife refuges be managed in a way that keeps the land and wildlife healthy. The law does not apply to state-managed wildlife.

Signs of other diseases that are spread more quickly through crowding, like brucellosis, scabies and hoof rot are present in the refuge, environmentalists say. Brucellosis, which causes cattle to abort their young, has been a particular problem in the Great Yellowstone Ecosystem. In Wyoming and Idaho the disease has been passed from elk or bison to cattle.


MASSACHUSETTS NEWS: Deer in the Suburbs

Joanne Whooten knew deer had been near her Middleboro home this past winter by looking at the shrubs on her front lawn.

“The deer came and they ate them,” said Whooten, 46, a Purchade Street resident. “They ate the buds right off of them.”

The deer population in southeastern Massachusetts has more than doubled in the past decade, wildlife officials say, and it is showing up in nibbled shrubs, chewed up vegetable gardens and more close calls and collisions for motorists.

“We get it all the time,” said Philip Wyman, owner of Wyman’s Nursery in Hanson.
“People come in with the branch of a shrub that’s obviously been eaten by a deer,” he said. “They say, ‘I don’t have deer in my yard. I don’t live in the woods.’ But that’s what it is.”

The goal of the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is a deer population of 15 to 20 deer per square mile in Bristol and Plymouth counties. But estimates from the 2007 hunting season place the area’s deer population at between 20 and 25 deer per square mile, with some areas as high as 30 per square mile. Brockton, Abington, Hanover, Whitman, Rockland, Taunton and Norton are all on the higher end of that range, said Jason Zimmer, southeast district supervisor for the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Overall, deer populations are down from the all-time highs reached in 2005, but development, a declining number of hunters and more restrictions on people who do hunt are keeping the populations up.

“It’s been getting much worse,” Wyman said. “People around here are seeing a lot more deer.”

In some other parts of the state, hunting has kept the deer population in check. But residential development in this region has reduced wooded areas, where hunting is easier and more efficient.

Additionally, several towns have enacted recent firearm laws that have further restricted hunting.

In 2006, Brockton city councilors tabled a proposed ordinance that would have banned bow hunting, one of the primary ways to manage the deer population.

“It’s sometimes more trouble than it’s worth to hunt around here, and to me, it’s a straight line between that and the deer problem,” said William Hart, Pembroke’s animal control officer and an avid hunter.

Nature may also be playing a role this time of year. May and June are fawn season, when the doe population is especially active.

Without a revival of hunting in southeastern Massachusetts, the deer population will likely remain high, wildlife officials said.

The Division of Fisheries and Wildlife will present its recommendations next month to the Fish and Game Board, which will allocate hunting permits for the 2008 season.
State wildlife officials do not expect drastic changes from last year, when 9,300 antlerless-deer permits were issued.

Meanwhile, doctors treating suspected cases of Lyme disease are also on the lookout for other tick-borne diseases — babesiosis and anaplasmosis — that are on the rise as the local deer population increases.

“When we try to inform doctors about tick-borne diseases, we mention all three,” said Dr. Bela Matyas, medical director of epidemiology for the state Department of Public Health.