By Ron VandenBoom
The future of the $40 million to $50 million elk farm industry in Montana rests largely on the success or failure of efforts by the Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) and their off-shoot group, MADCOW, (Montanans Against the Domestication and Commercialization Of Wildlife) to get an initiative on the November ballot that would ban shooting preserves and place a moratorium on new farms.
Chronic wasting disease (CWD) has become the battle cry of the two organizations as they ardently resist the expansion of elk farms and shooting preserves in Montana.
CWD is a fatal disease that infects elk and deer. It was first recognized in 1967 in Colorado in captive and free-ranging deer sand elk. It has so far been detected in game farm herds in South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Saskatchewan, Canada, and most recently in Montana.
Kim Kafka, vice president of the Montana Alternative Livestock Producers, and owner of the Diamond K Game Game Farm/Shooting Preserve, was a member of the Governor's Negotiated Rule Making Committee and help write the rules governing the alternative livestock industry in Montana. He notes that the MWF was involved in these negotiations and "signed off" on the agreed rules.
Kafka said Montana's alternative livestock industry has the safest, most strict, and most reasonable rules governing the industry in the United States.
"The industry has always stepped to the plate on these issues," Kafka said, adding that the industry, since the first of the year, has made numerous attempts to sit down with the MWF and MADCOW to work out an agreement.
"And it has fallen on deaf ears," he said.
Kafka said so much mistaken information has been put out by MADCOW and the MWF over the CWD issue that voters may not know what the truth actually is. He also claims that the two organizations are hiding their true agenda behind the CWD issue.
Kafka maintains that the CWD issue is only 10 percent of MADCOW's and MWF's reason for making it such an issue and that 90 percent of their reason is political.
"It all comes down to the private ownership of animals," Kafka said. "And these people do not like the private ownership of animals."
Kafka also maintains the initiative is, in fact, a private property issue.
"They say their goal is to improve the relationship between sportsmen and landowners," he said. "But they aren't going to to do that by attacking the private property rights of landowners."
Information released by Dr. Mike Miller, a veterinarian with the Colorado Division of Wildlife shows "the prevalence of the disease in that state is very low...," So low in fact that in 1998, Colorado discontinued mandatory testing of wild game taken by hunters.
Tests conducted on 1,000 elk from Larimer County in Colorado over a two-year period prior to 1998, showed fewer than one percent had any signs of the disease.
"The disease appears to be stable, with maybe a slight decrease or just some annual fluctuation," Miller said. "There's no indication of a dramatic increase or decrease."
Miller also indicates in the report that there is no threat to human health. He does note however that hunters should not consume any animal that appears sick, regardless of the cause.
Stan Frasier, secretary/treasure of MACOW, said in an earlier telephone interview that that protecting Montana's hunting heritage is part of what organizations like MACOW and MWF are about and eliminating the "fair chase" involved in hunting wild game gives hunters a bad image.
The organizations also argue that game farms and shooting preserves close off land previously open to hunters and that environmental assessments (EAs) conducted by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks uses sportsman fees and tax dollars to support a private industry.
Kafka acknowledges this and argues in favor of a reasonable cost EA the rancher could afford. But he also questions the need for EAs.
Kafka points out that if he were to put cattle or buffalo in the same enclosure, he would not have to get an EA and no body would care.
"As long as people follow the laws ... they've got rights," Kafka said. "I just want to make sure that they're respected."