By Ron VandenBoom
Tom Keating, Rob Natelson's running mate in his bid for the governor's job, told the North Central Montana Pachyderm Club Friday that there is no chronic wasting disease epidemic in Montana and environmentalists are using the issue to threaten private property rights.
"Wasting disease has existed in wild elk for as long as we've known," Keating told the crowd, "There is no epidemic."
Keating pointed the finger at the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) and its off-shoot group MADCOW (Montanans Against the Domestication and Commercialization of Wildlife), saying that they were trying to scare Montanans into voting for the initiative they are trying to get on the November ballot.
"The environmentalists again are using the emotional chronic wasting disease threat," he said. "And it's going to destroy everything."
The initiative has just recently been released from the Secretary of State's office in Helena and the groups are currently attempting to acquire the necessary signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
Keating admitted that the reason for the measure recently passed in the special session of the Montana Legislature was an attempt to head off the initiative and insure that elk farmers won't be put out of business.
"The initiative would actually ban elk farms," Keating said. "And that would be an invasion of private property rights because these folks that are raising elk are doing it on their private property."
Keating sees no reason why Montana's alternative ranchers should be put out of business when no actual threat to wild or tame herds of elk has been established scientifically.
"There is no reason to destroy them," Keating said, adding that it would be a shame if the citizens of Montana didn't take into consideration that private property rights are being threatened by the initiative and CWD is not a threat to wild elk.
Chronic wasting disease is a disease that affects the brain stem of elk and is always fatal. The disease was first identified about 30 years ago in wild elk populations in Wyoming and Colorado.
It is not known whether Montana's wild elk population has the disease and only limited testing has been done on wild herds.
"Out of the 80 elk that the man had in Philipsburg, only four of them had chronic wasting disease, but it hadn't extended to any of the other elk," Keating told the Pachyderms. "And they all lived together."
Keating went on to say that it is not known whether one animal can pass it to another animal and there is even speculation that it may be genetic.
He did emphasize that the disease is not mad cow disease and accused the MWF and MADCOW of deliberately trying to deceive the public into believing CWD is a threat to Montana's cattle and ranchers and related to the disease that several years ago in England killed numerous cattle.
"It's not mad cow disease," he said. "It has nothing to do with mad cow disease."
Keating noted that even after the elk dies from the disease, the meat is still good to eat.
The measure passed by the special session was a suspension, or a moratorium, on the issuing of any new licenses for game farms. It allows existing farms to continue to operate under the law.