By Ralph Maughan
After 22 years as the chief biologist at the National Elk Refuge, Bruce Smith pens an easy-to-read, but stark warning about continuing elk feeding-
Prions are bit like tiny pieces of radioactive material in that they are very dangerous promoters of illness and for practical purposes never really go away, resting in the dust and grass ready to kill far into the future. On the other hand, they are not radioactive. They are just proteins, but proteins that are deformed and infectious like viruses, brain eaters that are not even alive.
Wyoming’s politicians are a strange breed when it comes to elk and many other animals. They worry greatly about a couple hundred wolves that are arguably making the elk herds there stronger by culling out disease, but they can’t bring themselves to deal with a nightmarish microscopic killer protein, the prion that causes a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly called chronic wasting disease or just plain “mad elk disease” among elk, deer, moose, and many more animals.
Dr. Bruce Smith has spent his career studying and managing elk on the Wind River Indian Reservation and the famed National Elk Refuge at Jackson, Wyoming. Recently retired from federal public service, he has written Where Elk Roam: Conservation and Biopolitics of Our National Elk Herd. (see also at amazon.com). It is beautifully written and it is also a last ditch warning to Wyoming where business interests can’t wean themselves from the tourists who want to see them feed elk and the hunters who think winter feeding of elk keeps the herds big and strong.
Todd Wilkinson has an excellent interview of Dr. Smith in the latest Wildlife Art Journal. “An Interview With Biologist Bruce Smith About Mad Elk Disease*. Author of ‘Where Elk Roam’ Tackles Threats To America’s Most Famous Wapiti Herd.” Written By Todd Wilkinson.
Unfortunately we have already heard from Wyoming’s state game vet on the issue. Can anyone guess what they are going to do.