Sportsmen to voice worries about elk hoof rot

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Sportsmen plan to turn out before the state Fish and Wildlife Commission on April 12 to voice their worry about hoof rot in Southwest Washington elk.

“Somebody’s got to do something,’’ said Bruce Barnes of Vancouver, organizer of Mount St. Helens Rescue. “We’re going to make our voice heard.’’

Barnes and others plan to testify before the citizen commission when it meets beginning at 8 a.m. in the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Olympia.

Sporadic reports of elk with overgrown or missing hooves began in the mid-1990s. There was a dramatic increase in the condition in 2008.

A preliminary study in 2009 provided insight, but did not narrow down the origin of the hoof deformities.

Barnes said the outbreak now covers more than 10 counties and 21 game management units.

Since February, state biologists have killed calf elk in the in the Cowlitz River basin, center of the hoof deformation problem, plus calves from west and east of the affected area.

Sandra Jonker, regional wildlife program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said hoof, blood, organ and tissue samples from the elk have been shipped to Washington State University, Colorado State University, University of Wyoming, University of Liverpool and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory for analyses.

“Calves were selected as they are more likely to be in the earlier stages of the disease, which improves the chances of identifying the original cause,’’ she said.

The analyses are to determine whether the disease is infectious (bacterial, viral, fungal) or non-infectious (nutritional imbalance, chronic laminitis, stress) or genetic, Jonker said.

Results are expected back in late spring or early summer.

Barnes said there has been no explanation in the state’s big-game hunting regulations pamphlet about the situation with hoof rot.

“The Department of Fish and Wildlife has been selling licenses and permits to hunt sick animals,’’ he said. “They allow hunters to waste their preference points in drawings for permits to hunt diseased elk.’’

Barnes said he also wants more information about potential health and safety risks associated with eating hoof-rot-effected elk.

“This all needs to be in the game pamphlet,’’ he said. “This is my passion. This agency is broken.’’

Dr, Kristin Mansfield, department veterinarian, said in February the condition found in Southwest Washington appears to be distinct from hoof diseases found in livestock and other wild animals.

Mark Smith of the Mount St. Helens Preservation Society said the state may never find the exact cause of hoof rot and that treatment should not wait.

Smith said there are three basic treatments — two types of antibiotic drugs or nutritional supplements — regardless of the cause.

“Antibiotics can be mixed into their feed,’’ he said. “They’ll eat alfalfa pellets readily at this time of year.’’

Elk also can be given antibiotics via darts that fall off after the animal is hit, Smith added.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission promised two months ago to put hoof rot on its agenda, but has not, he said.

The sportsmen plan to bring up the topic at the open public input session on April 12.

“Fifty percent to 80 percent of the animals are affected in some units and it doesn’t warrant an agenda item?’’ Smith asked.

Clark County involvement — The Clark County commissioners sent a letter earlier this month to the state Fish and Wildlife Commission regarding hoof deformities in Southwest Washington elk.

The county commissioners say they are concerned that hunters killed only about half the number of elk in 2011 compared to 2005.

The county asked the state to have a public meeting about the topic with constituents and to create a public education campaign about the risks of butchering, eating or having contact with hoof rot animals.