Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

May 04, 2010 12:54 ET

Province fails to protect wildlife from threat posed by disease

No action taken to prevent potential spread of fatal Chronic Wasting Disease

Attention: Assignment Editor, Environment Editor, News Editor, Sports Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor ON, O.F.A.H. MEDIA RELEASE--(Marketwire - May 4, 2010) - Despite knowing about the escape of exotic game farmed red deer in the Sudbury/French River area sometime over the last two years, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has failed to recapture or contain the deer, which have the potential to infect wildlife with CWD, a fatal disease of the brain which affects white-tailed deer, elk and moose (cervids).

Initially, MNR North Bay district staff were far too complacent. By failing to act quickly to contain this potential threat, they violated Ministry policy and protocol, which calls for immediate action in the case of high-risk escapes. Current estimates of the number of escaped animals range from 25 to 250 animals, with a core group of 60, and several pockets of smaller numbers. To date, only two of a larger herd has been removed from the wild population.

The failure to deal with escaped red deer is compounded by the fact that these animals could, and may have already begun to interbreed with the local elk population, which were re-introduced to Burwash southwest of Sudbury (Nipissing-French River elk restoration area) in 1998 as part of a larger elk restoration program that cost several hundred thousand dollars and involved thousands of volunteer hours by anglers and hunters across the province.

Further complicating the threat posed by the escaped deer is the failure of the Ontario government, most notably the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), to ban game farms, the scientifically confirmed source of CWD. Since the 1990's, the O.F.A.H. has been urging the province to shut down game farms for deer and elk, with compensation for the owners, based on evidence that direct interaction between infected farm deer and elk and wildlife is the vector for the spread of the disease. In the interim, the province should be adopting stringent new standards for the operation of game farms for deer and elk, including double fencing to avoid contact between farmed and wild animals, and limit the potential for escape.

Chronic Wasting Disease has been found in at least fifteen U.S. states, Alberta and Saskatchewan. Culls of infected animals in the western U.S. and more recently in Alberta have failed to halt the spread of the disease and demonstrated conclusively that prevention is the only definitive way of eliminating a possible occurrence in Ontario.

"It is inexcusable that the government has failed to heed all the warnings and learn from the experience in other jurisdictions where the spread of the disease has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of deer," said Dr. Terry Quinney, O.F.A.H. Provincial Manager of Fish & Wildlife. "The abundant, healthy white-tailed deer population in Ontario, and the much smaller elk population, are being put at risk by inaction on the part of the MNR. Once CWD strikes in Ontario there will be virtually no means of eradicating it."

The government's failure to address the threat posed by game farms, is exacerbated by inconsistent half measures taken to eliminate other potential means of spreading the disease. Last fall, the MNR issued an Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) posting for comment that if enacted, would ban the possession and use, for the purposes of hunting, of natural deer attractants that might contain urine, blood or fluid from glands, which are largely derived from game farmed deer in the U.S. and might facilitate the spread of CWD.

"The O.F.A.H. accepts the scientific basis for the removal of these products from use in Ontario, even though they account for only a tiny fraction of the likely vectors for the transmission of CWD. However, instead of consulting outdoor retailers and distributors who order these products long in advance, and providing for a phase out period until January 2011 to allow retailers to divest themselves of the current product and obtain synthetic alternatives, the government is moving towards a ban on hunter use of the products by the fall of 2010. At the same time, the province is not prohibiting the sale of these products which is extremely counterproductive," said Quinney. "This half measure, combined with the province's failure to act on the escape of potentially infected red deer, and their failure to ban game farms, undermines the cornerstone of the highly touted Ontario Chronic Wasting Disease Surveillance Program, which is prevention."

CWD Facts:

* CWD is transmitted by direct contact with body fluids (feces, urine, saliva) and by indirect contact with a contaminated environment.
* The prions that cause CWD can remain in the environment and active for many years.
* Crowding in deer farms or by artificial feeding assists transmission.
* There is no current evidence that CWD can be transmitted to livestock or humans, but handlers are encouraged to wear gloves and not consume meat from infected animals.
* There is no live test for CWD, the only test is done post-mortem.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is Ontario's largest nonprofit, conservation-based organization, representing 100,000 members, subscribers and supporters, and 670 member clubs. For more information visit www.ofah.org.
/For further information: Lezlie Goodwin
Communications Coordinator
705-748-6324 ext 270

Contact Information

  • Terry Quinney, O.F.A.H. Provincial Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
    Primary Phone: 705-748-6324 ext. 242
    E-mail: terry_quinney@ofah.org