By Ron VandenBoom
Dorothy Bradley, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor with Joe Mazurek, said no to any expansion of elk farms during a campaign swing through Havre recently.
"Joe and I have talked to several scientists about the issue and we've become fairly concerned about what we don't know about this disease," she said.
Bradley was referring to chronic wasting disease (CWD) a 100 percent fatal disease that affects the brain stem of elk. The disease was first discovered 30 years ago in wild elk populations in Wyoming and Colorado and was recently discovered in a game farm animal that was transferred from a Philipsburg farm to a game farm in the Hardin area.
Bradley said that until more is known, "there is every reason for caution."
The issue of elk farms was recently brought center stage with the announcement by Montanans Against the Domestication and Commercialization Of Wildlife (MADCOW) that it had filed an application with the secretary of state's office to place an initiative on the November ballot that would create a moratorium on the creation of new elk farms in Montana and ban the transfer of existing licenses. The initiative also would ban all existing elk shooting preserves in Montana.
Bradley said that, as she understands it, it is related to a family of diseases that has a variation in sheep, elk, mad cow disease, and Jacob's disease in humans.
"We do not know a lot about transmissibility yet," she said. "We do know it's always fatal and it's difficult to learn whether the elk have it."
It is not known how the disease is transferred from one animal to another or even if the disease is transferable. No test for the disease currently exists that can be performed on a living animal.
"The main thing we know is that we don't know enough," Bradley said. "And that's the reason for caution.
Bradley said Montana should "be weighing in" on a research program with other states to learn more about the disease.
Bradley would also like to have seen more caution exercised in the up-coming Special Session of the Montana Legislature.