ELK TB ISSUE DRAWS QUESTIONS

February 20, 2002 11:00 pm
TB TALK: Biologist Brad Lemaster of the state Department of Agriculture addresses elk TB at Wednesdays meeting. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
TB TALK: Biologist Brad Lemaster of the state Department of Agriculture addresses elk TB at Wednesdays meeting. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife faced a verbal challenge from a small La Grande audience during an information meeting Wednesday night on tuberculosis in elk.

Harold Amidon, who hopes to develop an elk farm near Joseph, charged the state agency with having different standards for monitoring and testing animals in the wild than on farm elk, and he accused the agency of scrutinizing and eliminating private herds to raise more money for the government.

One elk owned by elk farmer Stan Hermens near Monument has been found to be infected with TB, said Craig Ely, Northeast regional director of the ODFW. The herd will be destroyed and tested.

Hermens was not in the audience of about 25, but his son, Levi Hermens of Wallowa was present.

Were here to be sure there is no misinformation, Levi Hermens said after the meeting. They did a pretty good job.

The remainder of the Hermens herd will be purchased by the federal government through a process that awards the farm owner a fair market value based on characteristics of the animal. After a price is established the herd will be killed and tissue samples tested for TB.

Amidon accused the ODFW of failing to destroy a wild herd in the Starkey experimental forest area after finding avian TB last year, but biologist Brad Lemaster of the state Department of Agriculture said avian TB, transmitted from birds to elk, is neither contagious nor dangerous to humans.

The ODFW had planned to shoot from aircraft to kill wild elk in the Rudio Mountain area of Grant County, but state law prohibits hunting from aircraft.

Ely said the agency will now test road kill and ask hunters to check in at designated stations to have elk carcasses tested for TB.

The ODFW may increase damage hunts that allow landowners to kill animals interfering with farming operations.

Lemaster, who also made a presentation during the meeting at Hoke Center, said the history of the infected elk is being traced. The herd was organized in 2000 with animals from Kansas, Levi Hermens said.

The animal may have been infected a long time, Lemaster said. Were trying to rule out possible scenarios. Hermens did everything right. Weve got to find out why this happened and change the things that we need to fix.

Ely and Lemaster said they could not rule out the possibility that the elk was infected by a wild elk, although there has been no physical evidence of the infection in the wild.

We just dont know, Ely said.

Sixteen permitted elk farms in the state pay $6.50 per year per farm to retain their permit.