Of Roosevelt Elk, Bacteria, Hooves and Herbicides

Feda Windship

Over the last several years through numerous blog posts and comments Cascadia Wildlands has been forwarding two important notions. The first is that state wildlife commissions (and therefore agencies) in the West are too beholding to resource-oriented industries such as ranching, timber, mining and energy interests at the expense of hunters, anglers and our ever-dwindling wildlife legacy.

And, at the same time, western wildlife commissions are too accepting of the ideas forwarded by some extreme hunting groups that increasingly reflect the views of these same resource-dependent industries such as increasing clearcuts, aggressive predator control, protection of public lands grazing and more road creation for access rather than hitting the conservation sweet spots of habitat restoration, wilderness preservation, road retirement and water quality improvement. In essence, both the commissions and these more trophy hunting-oriented groups have been quietly coopted by the very elements that do damage to the natural resources needed by all wildlife and fish.

The most recent and troubling example involves the issue of hoof rot in Washington State’s Roosevelt elk herds. No one knows for sure at this point what is causing the hoof rot in southwestern Washington, but there are a lot of candidates both of a direct and indirect nature. One hypothesis that was put forth recently is that there is some link between combinations of factors that could include herbicide use by the forest products industry and a bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. Leptospirosis often causes severe muscle pain in mammals which might explain the limping observed in these elk as well as the lack of hoof wear on the sore legs. Leptospirosis has been present in Washington for decades.

As a wildlife biologist who frequently looks at complex interactions, I can appreciate a scenario that includes multiple causes such as massive habitat changes and herbicide use that put elk in a vulnerable condition so they present the variety of symptoms we are observing with this hoof rot phenomenon. But the idea of this being driven by leptospirosis or via an herbicide link—either through decreased habitat quality or consumption effects—has been met with apparent resistance in spite of efforts by a retired public health researcher and an expert on leptospirosis detection, Dr. Boone Mora, and hunter Jon Gosch who has written two well-researched blog posts on the topic. In addition, farrier Krystal Davies has also made a rather cogent argument for this being laminitis associated with or driven by herbicides.

Visit www.cascwild.org/of-roosevelt-elk-bacteria-hooves-and-herbicides to read the entire article.

Discover Snoqualmie’s Supremely Talented Songwriter

I discovered him quite serendipitously one recent Sunday. Killing time in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, I wandered into a bar known as Conor Byrne that gives local musicians the opportunity to play a three-song set during their weekly open mic. Midway through the evening, a tall, shaggy-browed musician was introduced and Payson walked up and took a seat at the edge of the stage. The audience was restless and talkative, but as he began to croon his images of sweet melancholy, a hush came over the room, the spectators spellbound into silence. He had won them over completely.

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Citizens Express Profound Distrust of Fish and Wildlife Officials, Herbicide Spraying and Safety of Elk Meat

RCW 9A.08.010
General requirements of culpability.

(c) RECKLESSNESS
A person is reckless or acts recklessly when he or she knows of and disregards a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her disregard of such substantial risk is a gross deviation from conduct that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.

(d) CRIMINAL NEGLIGENCE
A person is criminally negligent or acts with criminal negligence when he or she fails to be aware of a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her failure to be aware of such substantial risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.

The following is a partial transcript of the public testimony segment of the Elk Hoof Disease Public Working Group meeting on May 21st in Kelso. A full recording of the meeting will gladly be shared with anyone who is interested.

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Local Farrier’s Research Connects Herbicides to Hoof Disease in Elk, Horses

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Krystal Davies with Her Horses, Jameson and Tucker | Photo by Shauna DeSpain

Herbicides Linked to Chemically Induced Endocrinopathic Laminitis in Elk

Authored by Krystal Davies

I believe I understand why the elk in southwest Washington are being affected by the mysterious hoof disease, namely hoof rot. I have credible evidence and can provide a plausible diagnosis, source of disease, a detailed route and manifestation of the pathogen, as well as a cure. My findings also link Leptospirosis, Treponema Pallidum, numerous other bacterial infections, and the use of pesticides and herbicides into one, highly interconnected, evidence based theory. The hepatic selenium and copper deficiencies discovered by Washington State University will also play an important role in returning the elk to a healthy state. My findings suggest that all of the current theories presented play an important role in the health of our local elk herds.

First, a little about myself. I am a farrier and have been studying equine hooves for over a decade. I specialize in the treatment and prevention of pathologies, including laminitis. Currently my efforts are being steered toward the local elk. But this runs deeper and a little more personal for me and my family. I have been controlling for known causes of hoof diseases in my own personal horses. However, since moving my little herd to Mt. Pleasant, in Cowlitz County, I’ve noticed a steady decline in their hoof health. They are showing subclinical signs of laminitis. This has led me to dig deeper into the situation and eventually brought me to research the local elk’s mysterious hoof disease. In my opinion the elk are being affected by the same thing as my horses as the signs and symptoms are strikingly identical to laminitis.

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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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