|Photo courtesy of ODFW|
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 WildlifeHealth@state.or.us 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: