Category Archives: Articles

Infected Elk May Pose Serious Health Risk to Humans

On February 12th, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officials concluded their most recent Hoof Disease Public Working Group Meeting with a sadly familiar message – they still did not know what was causing the crippling hoof disease that some have estimated is now responsible for half of all elk deaths in southwest Washington.

I was at the meeting as a hunter, a conservationist and a writer, and I was still bitter about my family’s bleak, unsuccessful hunting season that past fall. I was searching for answers and so far there weren’t any.

Before the meeting was adjourned, however, members of the public were allowed a chance to speak for three minutes each. First up was Boone Mora, a Doctor of Public Health from Skamokawa, Washington. Articulate and spry for his age, Dr. Mora stood and addressed the group.

Since I have so little time I’ll tell you I think I know what causes the disease. I think I know how to cure the disease, and I think I know how to prevent the disease. I spent ten years studying this disease. I was a guest researcher at the Center of Disease Control in Atlanta and I did a dissertation in this. I can tell you leptospirosis fits it better than anything else I can imagine. And leptospirosis hasn’t been investigated, certainly not exhausted. And I would like to do that. It won’t cost you anything. I’ll do it for nothing. The symptoms of this disease are as broad as symptoms go. This is why they are not diagnosed. People die from it.

And so began my plunge down the rabbit hole.

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Growing Evidence Links Herbicides to Elk Hoof Disease

My family has hunted the forests of southwest Washington for more than sixty years and never before have they observed such a scarcity of wildlife. Twenty years ago my dad and uncle remember seeing two or three big elk herds a day. Now we’re lucky to see two or three individuals a day. Depressingly, this past fall marked the first time in three decades that our entire hunting party failed to harvest a single elk from the Coweeman unit. I later learned that the Coweeman elk population has dropped by seventy percent in recent years.

Something is afoot in our local forests, and I’m convinced that the epidemic of hoof disease currently ravaging the elk population surrounding Mount St. Helens is only the alarm. Everyone in my hunting party now believes that the herbicides Weyerhaeuser and other private timber companies are spraying on new growth habitats is one of the chief causes of our wildlife shortage which includes deer, grouse and just about every other animal out there. After several years of diminishing returns, I (like many others) have been on a path of inquiry to understand just what is happening in our forests, and so far the insights have been disturbing.

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Elk Hoof Disease | Photo by Jon Gosch

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