Parks Canada Proceeds With Selected Elk Cull

“Their commitment to start removing animals is really positive.”

– RAY ARMBRUSTER, CHAIR OF MCPA ANIMAL HEALTH COMMITTEE.

Parks Canada has begun the removal of an increased number of suspect elk and deer from an area of Riding Mountain National Park that has had the highest TB infection rates. “TB Alley” along the Birdtail River from south of Grandview, down to just north of Rossburn has been the habitat that has contained most of the infected animals over the last 10 years.

Parks Canada is using an aerial cull of selected deer and elk in Riding Mountain National Park in an effort to reduce the transmission of bovine tuberculosis from wild cervids to domestic cattle.

Two federal and three provincial departments have been meeting for months to work out the details of a plan to lower the park’s elk population.

Lymph nodes from carcasses of between 60 and 70 elk harvested will be checked and suspect tissues sent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for further testing. About 90 whitetail deer will be captured for blood testing or removal to confirm the test results.

Carcasses deemed suitable for human consumption will be processed at an area meat plant and distributed among the First Nation communities and food banks in the region.

Governments had earlier provided financial assistance to

farmers to build elk-proof hay enclosures to eliminate cattle’s exposure to TB-contaminated feed. Cattle producers operating within a 20-mile radius of the park have had to test their herds at a minimum of three-year intervals in order to maintain Manitoba’s TB-free status.

The elk population in the park is about 2,180 animals based on this winter’s aerial survey. The elk herd had been at 4,500 when cattle herds became infected in the late 1990’s and 2002. Extended hunting seasons have been the main management tool used to reduce the numbers.

The total removal would be about 30 per cent higher than if Parks officials had done their usual winter program of blood testing 150 head, said Ken Kingdon, wildlife health coordinator for Riding Mountain National Park.

“Total elk kill removal will be about 60 off the top and that is done now, but we have some bottlenecks with the helicopter company and space at the meat cutting plant. Then from the 115 that we will be blood testing, the usual reactor rate is 25 per cent so we will probably take another 25 from that program. So between the two, we will have from 60 to 80 depending on the blood tests.

“We want to get a better idea of the infectivity level in the whitetail deer, but we have had some inklings of a fairly high level from the movement study of three years ago and the hunter-kill surveillance,” said Kingdon. Across the park, they will be capturing about 163 deer divided between the remove-and-test and the blood test with removal of reactors.

There were suggestions made from some cattle producers 15 years ago that the most expeditious solution might be to remove all elk from the park.

But the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association supports this latest plan by Parks, said Ray Armbruster, chair of MCPA’s animal health committee. “We recognize that testing and monitoring is part of the long-term solution. But their commitment to start removing animals is really positive.

“If we could see the same kind of commitment from Conservation in regard to the whitetail along that north side, we would appreciate that attention,” he said.

POSITIVES: The map of the western end of Riding Mountain National Park shows how pervasive the disease has been over the last 30 years. The infected cattle herds have been predominantly found on the northern and southern boundary near the Birdtail River.

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