By Scott Sandsberry / Outdoors Editor / Yakima Herald-Republic
Gadfly: gad-fly, n. 1) any of several large flies, as the horsefly, that bite livestock; 2) an annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.
Jonathon Gosch is neither a horsefly nor annoying. But when it comes to the state’s increasingly widespread epidemic of hoof rot and other deformities and ailments among its elk population, it’s not a reach to call him a gadfly – in the best sense of the word.
While the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has tried in vain for years to get a handle on what’s debilitating the elk in southwest Washington and elsewhere, Gosch has become the horsefly nipping at the department’s heels, demanding accountability and answers.
A freelance journalist from the Seattle area, Gosch became interested in the issue largely because his family has hunted southwest Washington elk for generations. For the last six months, he has been researching the hoof rot issue and blogging relentlessly on why he believes the timber industry’s widespread use of commercial herbicides is behind it.
Gosch’s latest post is, like much of his earlier research, a must read for anybody interested in or confounded by the seemingly unpreventable spread of hoof rot, as well as anybody frustrated by the WDFW’s inability to stem it.
As Gosch notes, the WDFW’s hapless response several weeks ago – to euthanize afflicted elk to put them, in the words of WDFW wildlife program director Nate Pamplin, “out of their misery” – has been roundly criticized.
Civic leaders in southwest Washington communities, as well as several members of the WDFW’s citizen panel working on the issue, are demanding what Gosch and some of his supporters have been saying for months: that those crippled elk be separated and studied until wildlife biologists can actually figure out once and for all what’s behind the disease.
That seems like a no-brainer to me. (That – “a no-brainer” – is also precisely how a member of that working panel described it to Gosch.)
I don’t know if Gosch’s theory – which is as evident as the title of his latest post, “Save Our Elk (from toxic herbicides)” – is correct. I have spoken to other knowledgeable people who believe the disease could just as easily be attributed to the widespread use of chemical sludge or slurry as fertilizer in commercially-owned forests. And maybe the WDFW’s theory that treponeme bacteria is to blame is correct.
But with each passing month, more elk are getting sick, growing deformed, getting weak, and dying.
Gosch has continued to make a pretty good argument that commercial use of toxic herbicides should not be overlooked as a possible cause, and he isn’t just throwing a wild theory against the wall to see if it sticks. He has done what any investigative journalist does: He’s been a bulldog chasing down evidence and answers wherever he can find them.
Time may ultimately prove that Jon Gosch has been meandering down the wrong rabbit hole, but it won’t be for lack of ethics or effort.