Sunday, October 12, 2014

ODFW Director Shuffle

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Roy Elicker's resignation will become effective Oct. 10, 2014 as he begins working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as Assistant Regional Director for Fishery Resources for the USFWS Pacific Region based in Portland.

Elicker, who has been ODFW Director since 2007, started with ODFW in 1993 as a Watershed Health Program Coordinator. During his time working for the state he has been a Fish Screening Program Manager, Fish Division Deputy Administrator, Legislative Coordinator, and Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs. Elicker will assume his new position with USFWS on Oct. 12, 2014.  Elicker will be responsible for daily operations of U.S. Fish and Wildlife fisheries programs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Hawaii.

ODFW Commission appointed Curt Melcher as the Interim Director for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Melcher has 27 years experience with ODFW and served as the Fish Division Assistant Administrator for the Columbia River and Marine Programs before acting as the Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs. Melcher's new position took effect October 1st, and will he will continue to serve as interim director until the Commission appoints a permanent director.

In the meantime, you can fill out a seven-question survey to give the department perspective of what qualities the public would like to see in a new director here:
This piece was published in the Corvallis Advocate October 9th, 2014

Friday, October 10, 2014

ODFW Tries to Stomp out the Potential Spread of Elk Hoof Disease

Photo courtesy of ODFW
Several elk harvested in Multnomah and Columbia counties have shown signs of a hoof disease that has been a problem in neighboring areas across the Columbia River in Washington. Processors in Washington familiar with the disease have reported receiving elk from Oregon that share the symptoms, but the presence of the bacteria is still unconfirmed. The disease first appeared in SW Washington's elk herds in 2002 and has become widespread since 2007, effecting nearly 20-90 percent of herds. State wildlife managers in Washington are researching a possible link to treponeme bacteria. Four independent laboratories have found treponeme in hooves of diseased elk. (There is no evidence that the bacteria is harmful to humans. It is specific to the hooves and does not affect the animals organs or meat.)

The bacterial disease results in debilitating lameness caused by deformed, overgrown or broken hooves, abscesses and laminitis. Commonly appearing in livestock such as sheep and cattle, it is possible that the bacteria may have been transmitted through wet soil in Washington's lowland areas. With known interchange of elk herds crossing the boundary of the Columbia River, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has joined a working group of veterinary staff and biologists to track the spread of the disease. The disease has not transferred to other wildlife, nor has it been observed being commonly transferred from domestic livestock to elk and vice-versa. This evidence indicates that neither populations are suspect for infecting the other, although the possibility of that becoming
an issue is being monitored.
JoAnna Dotson photographed this herd swimming the Columbia River
in Warrenton and coming ashore in Hammond. Herds could potentially
bring the bacteria over the state's bordering waterway`. 

The Columbian reports, during recent work group meetings on the issue, that some locals have questioned the possibility of a link from herbicides being used on private timber land. One of those locals, Krystal Davies, is a farrier (horse-shoeing expert) that lived near recently logged Weyerhauser land. She had been out riding horses on the company's property earlier in the year until she noticed her horses having a rapid increase in abscesses. However, without lab testing it's difficult to draw links to the abscesses, herbicides and the bacteria.

Herbicide experts advising the WDFW claim there is no evidence that herbicides used on forest land have had adverse effects on elk or other animals. Regional wildlife manager Sandra Jonker says, "To date, we're just not seeing that relationship," pointing to the fact that lab samples are pointing to bacteria and not toxins. Mark Smith of Toutle mentioned that even if the herbicides do not harm the elk directly, they change the variety and quantity of forage foods for elk, leading to malnutrition and making them more susceptible to disease. Locals questioning the possible link also pointed out that WDFW's invited experts that denied a connection to the use of herbicides were funded by the forest products industry. They also questioned the toxicology being conducted on infected elk that were killed for examination, and called for blood samples from elk living with the bacterial infection.

Timber companies treat clearcuts by spraying herbicides to prevent other emerging plants from competing with the newly planted saplings. Clearcut timber restorations were managed in the past by controlled burns until concerns for air quality prompted a switch in management methods in the 90's. Clark County Commissioner Ed Barnes called for a moratorium on the spraying of herbicides by timber companies, and legislation requiring the moratorium if they did not agree to it voluntarily. In spite of his petition to the governor, Washington state agencies haven't shown an interest to set this particular idea into motion.

To better understand the game management plan south of the Columbia River, I spoke with Julia Burco, an ODFW veterinarian serving the elk hoof disease technical advisory committee. Her perspective highlights three main factors, "Host, environment and pathogen" while tracking the spread of the disease. She points out that Roosevelt elk are more predisposed to abnormal wear due to chronic moisture in the environment, making them more likely to suffer from lesions and bacterial infections. A lack of forage food in the elk's habitat (due to herbicides in some areas) resulting in poor nutrition could contribute to the susceptibility of disease as well. "The bacteria itself is difficult to observe because it's constantly changing," says Burco. She suggests that replicating the disease in domestic animals may make it easier to study, but most of the treatments used with domestic animals like foot baths and cleaning pens are difficult to apply to free-roaming herds. Antibiotic injections common in domestic animals can't be used on wild populations that hunters are harvesting for food either. The lack of field-treatment options makes it a difficult challenge to contain the range of it's spread. "It's very frustrating managing illnesses in wild herds of any kind," says Burco. "We're simply trying to better understand the bacteria, how it's spreading, and how to contain it." She mentions that minimizing the transfer of animals over the state line, both wild and domestic, is the best that can be done for now.

Still, the issue appears to be caused by multiple contributing factors perpetuated by the host's lack of natural predators, population density, changes in habitat, and the persistent evolution of bacteria that is difficult to treat, containing it seems to be the top priority of ODFW.

Hunters who harvest visibly infected elk are encouraged to report to ODFW and turn over the damaged hooves for examination. Hunters can fill out a form online or contact the wildlife health lab toll-free at (888)968-2600 or by email at to arrange for collection of the infected hooves.
Photo courtesy of ODFW

This article was featured in the February 5th issue of the Corvallis Advocate:

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Farm Raised Tilapia are a Poor Substitute for Wild Caught Fish

Global harvest of tilapia species in million metric tons
as reported by the FAO, 1950–2009
Long gone is the standard of going out back to collect eggs from the henhouse, out to the garden for vegetables, and down to the water for fresh fish. The changes in our eating habits are a direct result of the changes in our lifestyles. Many people will go their whole lives without having their hand in the production of what ends up on the table. That disconnect is partially why first grade children have more difficulty identifying a tomato than ketchup. The introduction of pesticides, fertilizer and monoculture have altered farming practices. The introduction of antibiotics has allowed for livestock to survive in crowded and unsanitary conditions, replacing free-range grazing as the status quo of food production. As we seek out healthier options in a society where convenience and affordability take priority over hunting and gathering, some of the options can be deceptive.

When most of us think of factory-farmed animals, fish is not the first mental image that appears in our heads. However, pigs, chickens and cows are not the only crowded domestic creatures being raised in cages. Fish are commonly viewed as a healthier option because of high protein and low fat content in addition to fish oil high omega-3 fatty acids. However, much in the similar way that grass-fed beef is usually more lean, wild caught fish contain more nutritional value due to a high-quality diet. Fish that are fed cheap corn or soy pellets lack the same foundation at the bottom of the food web that creates the vitamin-rich filet at the top of the food chain when it reaches our plates. Tilapia, the most popular farm-raised fish on the market, is so widely available that wild-caught Tilapia is extremely rare. Research from Wake Forest University has revealed that not only does farm-raised Tilapia lack the same levels of the desirable omega-3 fatty acids, but it also contains levels of detrimental omega-6 fatty acids exceeding that of doughnuts, ground beef and bacon. The end result is an exaggerated inflammatory response that could put those with heart disease, asthma, arthritis, other allergic and auto-immune diseases at risk by damaging blood vessels, the heart, lungs, joints, skin and the digestive tract. Health professionals offering nutritional advice to consume more fish in order to combat some of these health issues has the potential to become a serious issue if low-income patients reach for Tilapia as a cheaper alternative to something like wild caught salmon.

Tilapia are hardy fish that require little space and a very inexpensive vegetarian diet that does not retain the same levels of mercury as other fish. Lakeway Tilapia farms claims that "American farm-raised fish like Tilapia, are kept in very controlled conditions, and fed a nutritionally complete diet." Conversely, in addition to being commonly given GMO feed, tilapia are often fed chicken manure, duck and pig waste, as well as feces collected from the waste-water of other farmed fish like hybrid striped bass. This practice was highlighted by Mike Rowe on the Discovery Channel's show "Dirty Jobs." The unsavory conditions in which Tilapia are typically raised on an industrial scale require the use of antibiotics to combat diseases. While Tilapia, otherwise known as the "Nile Perch" are commonly fed low quality foods, there are some smaller aquaculture operations that have found alternative solutions. One particular farm in Maine is feeding their fish organic pellet feed as well as duckweed grown in a greenhouse. However, the labeling of fish as "organic" has become a heated debate in regards to the comparison of nutritional value of wild caught fish. Wild caught carnivorous fish feed on other smaller baitfish, and as mentioned in The New York Times, "The issue comes down largely to what a fish eats, and whether the fish can be fed an organic diet."

Nutritional value of wild caught vs. farmed salmon correlates the increased levels of omega-6 fatty acids, in spite of the fact that a common selling point is that the farm raised fish have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The trade-off for the insignificant increase of omega 3 vs. nearly four to five times the amount of omega-6, twice the calories from fat and three to four times the saturated fat makes wild-caught the obviously more nutritious option, not to mention that it is higher in minerals like potassium, zinc and iron.

Along with diet, there are concerns about contaminants that have been found in farm-raised fish. Polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, pesticides and toxic chemicals found in pvc like dibutylin are among the list of contaminants found in "very controlled conditions." While fish farms claim that their systems reduce the number of environmental pollutants, the systems in which the fish are being raised are deliberately contaminated with these toxins as part of the controlled environment. This is true not only for Tilapia, but salmon, mussels, shrimp and virtually all aquaculture farming.

Beyond the science, the ethics of factory farming have long been criticized. Outdoor enthusiasts who are fortunate enough to know the health benefits of venison vs. beef and boar vs. pork also know that there is a connection to the food web that exists from wild-harvesting. If the age-old saying of "you are what you eat" is true, then wouldn't it be more appealing to be free than imprisoned? A free-range environment of our food sources allows for them to move about, burn fat and consume a diverse, truly complete diet. Taking a life to nourish your own is something that most humans seem to have forgotten while filling their carts at the grocery store with the flesh of other creatures. I would encourage anyone reaching for Tilapia to reach for a fishing pole instead. There is value to considering the full life of what we consume if we are to live to the fullest ourselves.

This piece was published by The Good Men Project on 10/12/2014