The Manitoba Elk Growers Association is pleased to hear the province is building a new big game health lab in Dauphin but is calling for more action to stop the spread of chronic wasting disease.
A spokesperson from the province confirmed that a request for proposals was issued in mid-August for the building of the new lab. The current lab is operating at capacity.
Association president Ian Thorleifson told the Manitoba Co-operator that elk producers are closely monitored for diseases like tuberculosis and CWD. Producers have to test their entire herd for TB every five years and must test every slaughtered animal for CWD.
Chronic wasting disease or CWD is a progressive, fatal nervous system disease known to naturally infect white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, red deer, elk and reindeer. It is not considered a health risk to humans.
Thorleifson said producers are concerned about mule deer coming from Saskatchewan into Manitoba. No cases of CWD have been reported in Manitoba, but has spread to wild and farmed animals in Saskatchewan.
Thorleifson said mule deer are considered at high risk for carrying CWD, but are illegal to hunt in Manitoba.
“Just make it legal for everyone to harvest them. That way we can keep the numbers down,” Thorleifson said.
He said the association has met with the province on this issue. “To date there has been no action taken,” he said.
According to information from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, mule deer are found to have a higher prevalence of CWD than white-tailed deer and other cervids in the same area. This may be related to different movement and behaviour.
Mule deer are designated as a threatened species in Manitoba and cannot be hunted except by Indigenous hunters. A spokesperson for Manitoba Sustainable Development said the department intends to review this because of disease concerns.
“Every year the Big Game Health Program tests a few mule deer (five or less) for CWD and all have been negative,” the spokesperson said.
The province has not said when the new laboratory will be complete.