ODFW to kill deer, elk to test for TB

February 04, 2002 12:00 am

About 250 deer and 100 elk may be killed near Kimberly this winter by the state in an effort to make sure that tuberculosis has not spread in Grant County.

The elk and deer will be shot to sample wildlife in a 25- to 50- square-mile area where one farmed elk tested positive for the disease late last year. There is no indication of TB in Oregon wildlife at this time.

Our interest in protecting Oregons livestock and wildlife is paramount, said Ron Anglin, Wildlife Division administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Were committed to answering the question, Does TB exist in the wild?, and to take whatever actions necessary to contain and remove potential risks to livestock and migrating wildlife.

Agricultural and wildlife officials began investigating the possible sources of infection, including people, cattle, farmed elk and wildlife, when tuberculosis was found in an elk that died in November at a ranch in Grant County near Kimberly. The elk was one of 51 head imported from Kansas in May 2000, according to the ODFW.

All of the people living on the Kimberly ranch who had contact with the elk have tested negative for TB. Federal and state agricultural officials began testing ranch cattle this week using a non-lethal TB skin test, and testing of farmed elk will soon follow. Wild deer, elk and scavengers will be collected on winter range in late February and March. The scavengers serve as an additional checkpoint to determine if the disease is present.

As an added precaution the ODFW stopped all deer and elk trapping in mid-December. The ODFWs directive put the brakes on an elk-trapping program at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area that started in early December.

The ODFW, the Oregon Department of Agriculture, wildlife biologists and veterinarians from other states and federal agencies are reviewing a wildlife survey sampling plan for scientific accuracy. ODFW biologists based the draft plan on epidemiological models and an estimate of the wild deer and elk populations wintering in the survey area. The animals must be sampled to help prevent the possibility of exposing more wildlife or livestock before spring migration occurs, biologists said.

Because wildlife cannot practically be held the 72 hours required to read the TB skin test, lethal methods must be used. Domestic livestock testing requires repeated skin tests during quarantine, which is not possible when assessing wildlife.

The selected deer and elk will be shot from helicopters and carcasses will then be transported by air to a central processing area where tissues will be examined and removed for laboratory testing. The ODFW is considering plans to donate the meat of collected animals to charitable organizations.

TB is caused by a bacterial infection that settles in the lymph nodes and lungs and can affect most mammals. The most likely transmission method occurs with prolonged nose-to-nose contact. Horses and some other species are not considered significant in maintaining or transmitting the disease. Clinical signs include coughing, loss of appetite, weight loss, fluctuating fever and death.

Wildlife and agricultural officials believe the risk of transmission exists between cattle, farmed elk, and wildlife. Wild elk and deer, and cattle all had access to the exterior fences of the farmed elk pens.

A final decision on the extent of the wildlife survey will be made after the Oregon Department of Agriculture receives results of non-lethal TB skin tests on 280 cattle and 200 farmed elk. Any ranch animals that react to the test will be killed and veterinarians will examine each carcass for evidence of TB.

Eighty cattle sold by the ranch last summer tested negative using the TB skin test. TB test results and wildlife sampling plans will be discussed at information meetings later this month or in early March in La Grande, Monument, Bend, Portland and Medford.