Montana Legislature Environmental Quality Council holds hearing on the tapeworm and more

Dr. Norman Bishop reports on the testimony-

I think the recent controversy over one kind of tapeworm that infests wolves and other canids and which can cause a secondary infection in other animals, including people, is mostly hot air meant to scare. However, in response to the controversy the Montana Environmental Quality Council held a hearing a few days ago. Dr. Norman Bishop of Bozeman, a naturalist with long experience with wolves and other wild animals testfied.

I also asked him to write up an account of the testimony given by the other participants in the hearing. I’m glad he took the time to do it rather than simply rely on media reports. Here is his report. I want to thank him for his testimony and time-consuming note-taking and write-up.

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Notes by Dr. Norman Bishop

I attended the Montana Legislature Environmental Quality Council’s session at the Capitol in Helena Friday May 7, 2010. Their agenda was Agency Oversight: FWP – Wolf Management.

On the topic of Echinococcus granulosis, (E.g.), Dr. Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science, University of Calgary, gave a ten-minute talk via conference phone to the Council. He had emailed a 4-page statement to them. He said there was a chance of transmission of E.g. from deer and elk wintering where family dogs may be. He proposed a number of draconian preventive measures against E.g. spreading into family dogs: promote deworming, reduce straying and scavenging by dogs, medicate dogs after hunting. He would reduce wolves and coyotes; wolves, to prevent infections of humans when fearful elk seek refuge near buildings. He recommended hunting big game on their summer ranges, and targeting wolves there as well. He would reduce hydatid disease in wolves by using airborne baits with worming agents. He said to trap coyotes, and to burn grasslands to eliminate E.g. eggs. He warned against touching freshly skinned canids, cleaning the skins, and soaking them in helminthic. He said not to poke around scats, don’t pick berries or mushrooms, and eat with clean hands; cook liver and lungs of game over a campfire to kill cysts.

He was followed by Dr. Helen Schwantje, British Columbia wildlife veterinarian. Dr Schwantje took a much calmer approach, saying B.C. doesn’t try to eradicate E.g. Pets are simply wormed. She pointed out that E.g. is part of a sylvatic cycle in which the wolf is a definitive host, and that ungulates – cervids – are intermediate hosts. Wolves, coyotes and foxes all have it. In B.C., it is uncommon for people to ask questions about hydatid disease. In 2008, after an 8-year-old Saskatchewan girl had an E.g. cyst in her head, the native community was surveyed, and 11% of them had antibodies to E.g. They had no exposure to wildlife, but had lots of free-ranging dogs. She inquired in Alberta, and was told there was a theoretical risk, but all their cases were seen in immigrants, where family dogs were the source of infection. She said the Canadian Journal of  Zoology had an article on infectious diseases in 2001, that noted that most of the 17 cases of E.g. were found in new immigrants from Europe. In B.C., the disease is endemic, and not of high significance. She said B.C. focuses on public education, because the disease can be readily avoided. Feeding raw offal to dogs, she said, could be a problem. Cysts may cause no problems in humans. During questions, Dr. Geist reiterated his call for de-worming wolves in the wild, with ivermectin in baits dropped from helicopters. He admonished, “High densities of wolves, high rate of infection.”

Following their question period, chairman Sen. Vincent called the attention of the Council to Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Mark R. Johnson’s testimony, that he had emailed to the Council (Dr. Johnson, project veterinarian for the 1995-96 wolf  reintroductions in Yellowstone and central Idaho) is the founder and director of Global Wildlife Resources, Inc., P.O. Box 10248, Bozeman, MT 59719). He noted that Dr. Johnson didn’t agree with Dr Geist’s recommendation, including those for widespread burning of grass to sanitize the areas from E.g., and asked Dr. Geist if he had been in touch with Dr. Johnson. Dr. Geist said he hadn’t. In his testimony, Dr. Johnson referred the Council to a case study that was published, listing the medications given to the reintroduced wolves. It is Johnson, M.R. 2001. Case 2. Health Aspects of Gray Wolf Restoration Pp. 163-167 in Maehr, D.S., R.F. Noss, and J.L. Larkin, eds. Large Mammal Restoration. Island Press, Washington.

The Council had heard in a previous session from Krysten Schuler, PhD, Wildlife Ecologist, Field Investigation Team, USGS National Wildlife Health Center, 6006 Schroeder Road, Madison, Wisconsin 53711 on E.g. in wolves. Her 3-page paper, Echinococcus granulosis in wolves, is available on the Council’s web site. Briefly, she wrote that they know of no known transmission of E.g. from a wolf to a human, but hydatid disease has been reported in sheepherders and native people who have close associations with their dogs.
Other notes: “Our opinion is that mortality and health risks are low for all groups based on available literature. Handling wolf feces is the most likely route of infection and can easily be prevented with proper hygiene. It is unlikely this parasite has a substantial impact on wildlife populations.”

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Joe Maurier was scheduled to talk on the use of volunteers to get better wolf population counts.
On E.g., he said FWP would do what they could to educate the public.
The Council asked him many questions around how many wolves would be hunted, and how many wolves he would recommend be allowed in the state. Maurier’s reply was that the department was “managing risk – how fast we want to reduce the population, now too high.” He said human tolerance of wolves would be the determinant of how many wolves he would manage for. He also noted that a press release was distributed today on the hunt proposals.

A number of speakers offered comments.

Charles Klepner of Big Fork noted the close link between wolves and domestic dogs at road kills.

I gave the comments, “What good are wolves? that I sent you earlier.

Sterling Miller, former Alaska Fish and Game employee, and now representing a conservation group, said he thought Dr. Geist was overreacting.

George Edwards of the livestock loss and mitigation board asked if wolf hunting license fees could be used for loss mitigation.

Stan Frazier, said farmers in Great Britain wanted to eliminate badgers to eliminate brucellosis in livestock. He noted that conservationists had pleaded with the Montana legislature to deal with CWD in captive elk, but to no avail. Now, he said, they were making overmuch of E. g..

Clay Dethlefsen of Western Predator Control Association said he’d spoken at the Jackson meeting six weeks ago. He said communication and information is desired by his constituents, saying the wolf program is perceived as something thrown at them. He asked for objective, correct, and official information. He talked about attacks on people, and reasons for them: territory, food, and injured and aged wolves.

Jerry Black of Missoula said this seemed to be a witch hunt by the livestock industry. He noted that many people in SE Asia had tapeworms. He said Cryptococcus gatti was a fungus lethal to humans, spread by fir and hemlock trees in British Columbia. He wondered what the State of Montana would do about that. He also asked, “How does removal of wolf packs alter ecosystem
functioning?”

Jennifer Nitz of Helena said this meeting was really all about fear and hatred, and that E.g. was identified in sheep in 1969. She pointed out that 90% of livestock fatalities were from causes other than predation. She said elimination of E.g. would require removal of all ungulates, canids, and grass, when all we have to do is to keep dogs from eating raw offal. She said we were treating wolves like exotics, to protect what are really exotics, cattle. She noted that wolves contribute to natural ecosystem functioning. She also spoke to the question of giant wolves, saying that Idaho F & G had weighed 188 of those killed in the hunt, and found them all less than 100 pounds.

Ben Lamb of the MT Wildlife Assn. said that as a hunter he uses gloves, Purell, and takes responsibility for his dog. He said the recent wolf hunt was a success. He said that maintaining a wolf population (so USFWS doesn’t take over mgt.) is the way to keep state’s rights.

Mary Fay of Helena said stop the wolf hunt, noting that studied collared wolves were killed, and that 62% of those killed in Montana were yearlings and pups. She said the adults were killed without concern for their social status, noting that wolf pups without leadership were more likely to kill livestock. She said wolves have a rightful place in our ecosystems, where, by reducing elk browsing on willows, they make estuarine areas healthier, even benefitting fishes. She called for decisions on wolf management to be based on science, not emotions.

Mark Cook of Stevens showed a copy of a March 30 letter that the deputy director of USFWS wrote to Sen. John Barasso of Wyoming on behalf of constituent Josh Skorez, responding to a question about health risks of tape worm in wolves. Key line: “E.g. poses a very low health risk to people.” Cook said he’d looked up information on E.g., and found that Oregon had E.g. in 1920, and that the U. of Texas said sheep feces were the primary source of infection. Merck notes that E.g. is worldwide. In New Zealand, they just advise not feeding dogs gut piles. In Minnesota, no cases have been recorded. He said some people wish to cause a public panic.

Madison Valley Rancher Sam Connolly said he’d lost 36 more calves than usual February 1-March 20; 4% more calves this year than in other years, and said a pack of wolves stampeded his cattle. As a result, he had 4-22 tagged calves missing. He cited weight loss of 60-90 lb. in his stock because of stress, costing him $27,000. Woolgrower Becky Weed of Belgrade took conservation groups to task for suggesting that they should try to make the anti-wolf element look like extremists on the E.g. point, and decried failing dialogue while dealing with marginal issues.

Derek Goldman of the Western Wolf Coalition said MT FWP has done a good job of educating the public about wildlife diseases, noted that wolf attacks on humans are rare, and cited a Spokane Spokesman Review article that said Idaho wolves averaged 100 pounds for males, 86 for females. He cited Duffield et al’s 2006 report, “Wolves and People in Yellowstone: Impacts on the Regional Economy” (U. of Montana Dept. of Mathematical Sciences) on the economic benefits of wolves, noting that increased visitation to Yellowstone by wolf watchers contributes $35.5 million annually to the 20 surrounding counties.

A question period followed. Sen. Tutvedt told Derek Goldman that the real issue is the impact on the livestock industry. Goldman responded that Defenders had donated $100,000 to the Montana compensation fund [besides $1.3 million 1987-2010]. Sen. Tutvedt thanked Director Maurier for proposing to hunt a higher number of wolves. Sen. Ripley told Director Maurier that the most important objective is to keep wolves off the endangered species list, saying that there is no clear path to hunting season if wolves are re-listed, and that the hunt is the only tool available to lower wolf numbers. Maurier said that killing wolves in response to depredation may be litigated.

Sen. Ripley waved a hydatid disease fact sheet, and a guidebook from Canada, which he said is worth emulating.

Rep. Dickenson asked if Maurier would be setting seasons based on where depredation is a problem. He said that north of Yellowstone the subquota will be set at three. She also asked if the department could respect the hierarchy of packs in hunts.

Bob Lane, Legal Counsel for FWP, responded that he had facilitated the meeting at which the quotas were set, and said they wanted to maintain a population, learning and improving as they go.

Rep. French asked if FWP was using hunting license moneys for operations. Maurier said that license money can only be used as appropriated by the legislature.

Rep. Fitzpatrick noted that the State has a non-game wildlife program check-off contribution on its tax form. She suggested that FWP look at ecosystem health as a criterion for the number of top predators.

Maurier said, “I think we do.” Sen. Tutvedt asked how FWP proposes to regulate wolf predation on elk herds. Maurier gave the situation on the West Fork of the Bitterroot as an example of where action may be needed. Sen. Hamlett asked me several questions. One was, “did I consider humans predators.” I said, “I did, and I was one.” Then he asked if I thought Yellowstone was overgrazed. I said I had studied that question since my arrival at Yellowstone, and would ask the park to send him some publications on that topic (I did). He also wondered what might happen if humans were full-time predators in the park. I emailed him some remarks about the Sheepeater Indians, noting that they were the only resident Native Americans there, and that there was little evidence of their using elk (One correspondent suggested to me that elk meat didn’t dry for long term storage as well as bison meat did). The meeting recessed for a break about 3:30 PM.  I left.

Norm Bishop

10 Responses to “Montana Legislature Environmental Quality Council holds hearing on the tapeworm and more”

  1. Robert Hoskins Says:

    Norm Bishop is one of the heroes of wolf conservation and he’s done yeoman work here, for which I thank him. It’s a shame that the politicos didn’t pay attention to him and that MFWP will attend not to science but to public fantasies about wolves.

    And Becky Weed can’t get past the Rodney King approach where we all sit down with Bob Fanning and break bread together. Right.

    RH

  2. SEAK Mossback Says:

    It’s interesting that where the parasite has been around with wolves all along, like B.C. and Alaska, it’s hardly on the radar screen. It must have been in Montana before, probably all along, but now its viewed even by Dr. Geist who’s from Canada as another foreign scourge needing control effort on numerous levels.

  3. SEAK Mossback Says:

    I got a deer with a hydatid cyst right up behind my house, but I’m not going to quit picking berries and mushrooms back there . . .

  4. Peter Kiermeir Says:

    Seems Valerius, the restless Ghost (Geist) was in high gear.

  5. JB Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks to Norm and Ralph for the summary!

  6. Evan Says:

    I’ll second that sentiment, JB. Outstanding report on the proceedings! Thank you Dr. Bishop, and thanks again Ralph for developing such an informative site for folks in and out of the proverbial loop.

  7. Melody Says:

    I wonder if this was the same commissioners counsel that was on the television the 22nd and 23rd of May 2010. I watched briefly while they joked about reporting a wolf that had been shot to 1-800-DED-WOLF. Now MTA would like to be in charge of managing our wolf population by trapping (MTA = Montana Trappers Association) they suggest that trapping wolves would greatly benefit Montana’s Trappers economically. I know of two wolves shot illegally (S. S. & S.) and one “story” concocted so a wolf shot was deemed justifiable. Then they laugh about it…I’m listening fellas.


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