By Ron VandenBoom
Stan Frasier, secretary/treasure of MACOW (Montanans Against the Commercialization Of Wildlife), filed papers with the Secretary of State Thursday that would, if approved by voters in November, place a moratorium on new game farms in Montana and ban all existing shooting preserves.
The paperwork will now be passed on to the Attorney General's Office where it will be checked for wording and put into "ballet initiative form," Frasier said in a telephone interview Friday.
The initiative will then be returned to MACOW so they can begin collecting the 19,862 signatures, or five percent of 34 districts, that are required to get the initiative on the ballet.
The initiative effort has once again inflamed the passions of ranchers in the game farm industry and also threatens to widen the gap between land owners and sportsmen.
Kim Kafka, a third generation farmer/rancher and vice president of the Montana Alternative Livestock Producers (MALP), said he sees the initiative as setting the stage for a division between sportsmen and landowners that will hurt sportsmen rather than help them.
"I think some of the sportsmen better speak up because I don't think Stan Fraiser is carrying their message for them," he said.
Kafka started his elk ranch about three years ago south of Havre and about two years ago started a shooting preserve. He currently has about 80 head of elk on his property that he uses for breeding, the harvesting of their antlers, or as part of his shooting preserve.
He has been politically active as a member of the Governor's Negotiated Rule Making Committee and has worked to help write the rules and regulations that currently govern the alternative livestock industry.
"I feel personally that they have misled the sportsmen of Montana," Kafka said. "I cater to 300 sportsmen a year on our property and from what I see they don't represent the sportsmen."
Kafka sees the issue as one of private property rights and maintains that as long as it is legal and elk ranchers follow the rules and regulations they should be left alone to try and make a living.
"It all comes down to the private ownership of animals," he said. "And these people do not like the private ownership of animals."
Frasier however maintains that confirmation of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in on a Montana game farm near Philipsburg late last year is the real reason MACOW has taken up the fight.
The disease was found in an animal that was shipped out of state and later traced back to the farm in Montana.
According to Frasier, CWD is a disease that is 100 percent fatal to elk and is related to mad cow disease. It is also a disease that might be transmitted to other animals and for which there is no test that can be conducted on a living animal.
Frasier said he sees the disease as a threat to wildlife in Montana and also to other forms of livestock like sheep or cattle.
There is even some question concerning CWD even infecting humans, Frasier said.
Dr. Arnold Gertonson, state veterinarian with the Montana Department of Livestock, agreed more than a year ago that there is no current test for the disease on a living animal, noting that the only way they can test for the disease at the moment is to remove the animals head and checking the brain-stem.
He also said that it is not known how the disease, a form of encephopathy Spongioform, is transmitted, but it is caused by a prion, an organism smaller than a virus, and not the same as mad cow disease.
Kafka maintains that game farm animals are the most widely tested and monitored animals in Montana with 100 percent of all elk dying in the state for any reason being tested.
"No other trace of the disease has been found," Kafka said, adding that the farm where the disease appeared had not had any animals imported into it for more than 10 years, suggesting the elk probably contracted the disease from outside the game farm.
He also argues that it is not surprising no traces have yet been detected in the wild because hunters only shoot the healthy elk and not the sickly ones located on the other side of the hill that eventually die and get eaten by predators.