Provincial authorities have started a new public awareness campaign to keep a disease killing white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose in Alberta and Saskatchewan from spreading across the border into B.C.
“The idea is to minimize the risk to wildlife in B.C.,” B.C. government wildlife veterinarian Helen Schwantje told The Valley Echo. “I really hope people take it seriously and support us rather than think it’s just some silly rule. We don’t want people to stop hunting; we just want them to use some common sense.”
Chronic wasting disease is a progressive, fatal nervous systems disease first discovered in Canada in 1996, which has been spreading ever since, despite efforts to contain it. It is caused by an abnormal protein and spreads when a healthy animal comes into contact with an infected animal, infected tissue or even soil contaminated by the protein.
“That’s a really unique situation, a dead infected animal does present a risk,” said Ms. Schwantje.
The disease is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which causes mad cow disease. The World Health Organization does not believe chronic wasting disease can pass from deer to humans, but as a precaution is warning people not to eat the meat of infected deer.
No infected animals have been found in B.C. so far, despite continual monitoring. The province has been working since 2001 to keep chronic wasting wasting disease out and passed regulations in 2010 restricting transport of high-risk tissues of hunted animals into B.C. Hunters cannot bring intact deer carcasses into the province, although they can bring in out-of-province hides, antlers or skull parts as long as these objects have been treated in a way that removes all tissue.
Chronic wasting disease began in a captive elk population in Saskatchewan and took quite some time to spread out of that population into wild animals in that province and then Alberta, and is moving slowly enough that the most imminent threat to B.C. wildlife is from an infected carcass brought in by a hunter.
“We know the disease is gradually moving westward in Alberta,” said Ms. Schwantje. “It will probably show up in B.C. naturally, but that may take decades.”
Provincial authorities have put new signs on highways leading into B.C. to remind hunters about the regulations, particularly on Highway 49 and Highway 3, with the support of local hunting, wildlife and conservation groups.
“The signs are there just to be a reminder,” said Ms. Schwantje, adding the province has done some outreach work, but many hunters may not yet be aware about the disease.
The new signs and regulations are similar to those in several western provinces and states in both Canada and the US, according to Ms. Schwantje.
“We’re just trying to achieve a uniform standard,” she said.
For detailed information on how to properly treat out-of-province deer, moose and elk in order to bring them into B.C. check out www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/wldhealth/CWD_program_update_spring2013.pdf. For more information on chronic wasting disease see www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/wldhealth/cwd.html.