7 Mar 2010, 4:28pm
Homo sapiens Wildlife Agencies Wolves
by admin

MT EQC Gets Earful on Wolf-Borne Diseases

The Montana Environmental Quality Council, an interim legislative committee charged with oversight of the MT Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, became informed at a March 5th meeting concerning wolf-borne diseases such as Hydatid (tapeworm) disease and rabies. The DFWP attempted to defend their look-the-other-way unmanagement of wolf vector diseases, but were less than successful according to observers.

The testimony included a letter from MT State Sen. Greg Hinkle [here]

Additional follow-up testimony was provided by Gary Marbut, President of the Montana Shooting Sports Association [here]. Mr. Marbut wrote:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Council:

There are issues about wolves that were not adequately addressed before the Council on Friday, primarily because of time constraints, and about which I’d like to follow up.

Wolf diseases and human health risks.

About Echinococcus granulosus (EG for short), I felt that the council did not get a good synopsis of this disease. The Council was informed by FWP that 63% of Montana wolves carry this disease, which is transmissible to humans.

Because this disease has not been well studied, especially concerning the likelihood that this disease has been or will be transmitted to humans, FWP takes the position that it is no big deal. They equate their lack of information with absence of risk — what you don’t know about can’t hurt you, an attitude similar to the people of Haiti about earthquakes a year ago.

This is a mistake. Council members have been provided recent issues of The Outdoorsman [here] which will generate a more informed view. Let me summarize.

EG (called “Wolf Worms” by some) is a parasite — a type of tapeworm. In Montana wolves examined there were literally thousands of these tiny tapeworms in the intestine of wolves. These tapeworms produce tens of thousands, maybe millions of microscopic eggs that are expelled in wolf feces. These eggs are viable for long periods of time, depending upon conditions.

These millions of EG eggs can become airborne or get flushed by rain into moving water. I have been unable to learn if community water treatment processes normally used to purify drinking water will reliably remove or destroy these eggs. That remains an open question.

What is not open to question is that people who intake these eggs though inhalation or any sort of transport-to-mouth mechanism can develop cysts that may be discovered any time from soon after exposure to as long as 20 years later. Such a long incubation period causes EG to be a nightmarish, untrackable public health risk.

Therefore, FWP’s position that no public health risk has been demonstrated is simply a case of whistling past the graveyard - denial based on lack of information and wishful thinking (but absolutely typical of FWP’s endless overt downplay of negative wolf impact).

When EG cysts form in a person, they are VERY difficult to detect. There are serological tests for presence of EG, but these tests have a spotty detection rate. Further, nearly all medical practitioners and diagnosticians are unaware of EG and are unlikely to look for or diagnose presence of EG cysts from non-specific patient complaints.

EG cysts have an affinity for peoples’ livers, lungs and brain, and sometimes heart. They may grow up to ten or 14 inches in diameter. Usually, there are multiple cysts in the affected organ. These cysts are an encapsulation of the larval form of EG, and one cyst may contain hundreds of these worm larvae. When a person develops EG cysts, that condition is called Hydatid Disease.

If a diagnostician should luck onto the detection of any such cyst in a patient, the only way to address or remove the cyst is via surgery - cut it out. Because of the risks associated with such surgery, the physician will usually opt to let the cyst grow until it becomes life-threatening before attempting surgical removal. Meanwhile, more such cysts may form in the same or other organs of the patient.

A physician and pathologist who is a member of MSSA told me that he has seen a death from EG where the patient’s liver was destroyed by EG cysts. A scientific journal reports the potential for heart attacks because critical heart blood supply vessels are blocked by EG cysts. Imagine EG cysts in your brain and being forced to choose between the risks of letting them grow, or surgery to remove them.

To summarize, 63% of Montana wolves are shedding millions of invisible, microscopic EG eggs across our landscape, eggs that can become airborne or water-borne and persist in the environment. These EG eggs can and do infect people. That is proven. Once infected, a person may develop cysts, up to 20 years later. The cysts will most likely be in the person’s liver, lungs, brain or heart. It is statistically unlikely that medical personnel will detect such cysts in a patient, except upon autopsy. If cysts are detected, the only solution is surgery, which is usually deferred because of the high risks of such surgery, until the risk of death from cysts exceeds the risk of death from surgery.

But, even that is not the whole story. There is another, similar type of tapeworm carried by wolves that is perhaps less studied and even more dangerous to humans. That is Echinococcus multilocularis (”EM” for short). The life cycle, transmissibility and consequences of EM are similar to EG, but differ in some important ways.

Since EM is even less studied than EG, we don’t know how prevalent EM may be in Montana. Further, when a person is infected with EM cysts, those cysts eventually rupture and the infected person dies suddenly from anaphylactic shock. The primary mechanism of death may or may not be detected upon autopsy, which, of course, no longer matters to the deceased.

Since systematic EG and EM detection and reporting processes do not exist, we simply have no way at present to quantify the public health threat. In the face of this absence of information about EG and EM, FWP assures us that these diseases are no big deal. Instead of stressing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, FWP, with its head firmly in the sand, assures us that there is no problem.

Other diseases. Mange and parvovirus are known to be hammering wolf populations currently. In Yellowstone Park, the chief cause of wolf mortality now is wolves being killed by other wolves. Both of these are obvious signs of overpopulation. The wolf advocates will argue that because wolves are dying from overpopulation we must stop killing wolves, a pretty obvious comment on the quality of rationale’ used by wolf advocates.

We know that rabies is endemic in other wild animals in Montana, especially in skunks and foxes. With wolves in the overpopulated condition demonstrated by wolf-wolf killing and existing diseases, it is only a matter of time before rabies begins to infect wolves, if it hasn’t already.

In Will Graves’ book Wolves in Russia, Graves documents that rabies-infected wolves will run for 100 miles or more, deliberately biting and infecting every animal and person it encounters. Stories abound in Russian literature of rabid wolves entering villages and attacking and biting every cow and person not sheltered inside buildings. This is not the bite-kill-eat behavior usual with wolves, but bite, move on and bite again typical of rabies-infected wolves.

Regardless of the political and ecological debate about wolves, it is a huge mistake to ignore the public health dimension of wolf diseases. Such diseases are real and they are a threat to public health. We don’t know how large the threat is because we lack information to make a determination. However, the potential threat is huge, for the reasons stated. It would be a serious mistake for policy-makers to not take this public health threat seriously until it can be proven otherwise.

If a homeowner calls 911 to report that an armed intruder is trying to force entry to the home with mayhem in mind, the dispatcher will send armed police immediately to investigate and interdict. The dispatcher will NOT require the homeowner to provide photographs and corroborating statements by five witnesses before dispatching assistance.

Citizens alerting policy-makers about the threat of wolf diseases to people is analogous to that 911 call. FWP’s dismissal of the alleged problem is like the theoretical dispatcher requiring photographs and witness statements before dispatching assistance. ”Prove it,” they are saying. If policy-makers are unwilling to send the public health police, they should at least be honest enough to inform citizens that they are on their own to defend against this threat.

Gary Marbut, president
Montana Shooting Sports Association [here]
author, Gun Laws of Montana [here]

Additional comments from Will N. Graves, author of Wolves In Russia, are [here].

7 Mar 2010, 8:32pm
by admin

EQC Meeting In Montana

Yellow Pine Times, March 6, 2010 (via email)

by Toby Bridges Lobo Watch

Selected Excerpts:

… the public seating for the EQC meeting was full capacity (about 50-60 people)…with a room across the hall where overflow could watch on a large screen.

If you looked at the agenda for the meeting, you know that the “Presentation” part started at 10:15 - with about a half-dozen FWP officials making various attempts to feed us the same ol’ hogwash that has gotten that agency into hot water. Much of that still being to lay blame on weather, grizzly bears and (human) hunting pressure as factors with far more impact on game numbers than wolves. The “same ‘ol”…”same ‘ol” how they count wolves was the same old b.s. - how they use radio collared wolves to identify pack…do a little visual check…then use mathematics to come up with the number of wolves in Montana. And I’m sure that most of you will not be surprised to learn that, according to FWP, we still only have about 500 wolves. If I embarrass any of you I’m sorry, but when that statement was made, I kind of thought out loud with a subtle and soft “Bullshit!”…which I know a few of FWP’s people overheard. As for the FWP presentation on the Echinococcus granulosus tapeworm, those who drove to Helena to learn anything on this potentially deadly (to game, livestock and humans) parasite that’s being widely spread by wolves could have learned far more by simply pulling up Wikipedia on your home computer. The FWP presentation on this topic was one of the sorriest presentations I have ever seen on any issue of such seriousness. And, as expected, FWP continues to downplay the dangers of hydatid disease.

The one (and only) bright spot in yesterday’s (March 5) presentation by Fish, Wildlife and Parks was when Director Maurier detailed (to some degree) the agencies new “Adaptive Management” plan, which will allow for the issuing of very controlled “shoot on sight” permits year around…and the elimination of problem wolves (and packs) instead of simply relocating them to another area of the state. Also, he spoke of an increased harvest…and how that could be impacted by whatever decision Judge Donald Malloy makes on whether wolves will be placed back on the Endangered Species List. And thanks to the persistence of many of you who have been fighting this issue for some time…MT FWP is beginning to realize we’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. Maurier admitted to the Environmental Quality Committee and the attending public that “Fish, Wildlife and Parks has tipped the scale…the wrong way.” Still, he kept referring to finding that balance between wolves and other living things in Montana…and most of us already know there is no such mythical balance.

The one part of FWP’s presentation that struck me, personally, all wrong was when FWP legal counsel Bob Lane pointed an accusing finger at the Wyoming Game and Fish wolf management plan - which still has not been approved by USFWS. (Like USFWS knows anything about wolf management!) According to Lane, Wyoming is the fly in the ointment, which threatens ongoing wolf management hunts. Bob Lane assumes far too much in his role as “legal counsel” for FWP, especially when he gets up and makes a presentation to a group of lawmakers like those making up the EQC, and those among the public sector also attending that meeting, and states that this is a problem that “A third grade class would identify as a problem,” And states that, in his opinion, Wyoming’s refusal to bow into the demands of USFWS could “potentially take us down with them.” Many of us sitting among the attending public later shared that we felt otherwise…we felt that Wyoming is the only state that has the right idea…with designated wolf areas, and when those wolves leave those areas, they are shot on sight. Lane also criticized the recent House of Representative emergency wolf bill that would call for reducing wolf numbers in that state down to 150. He claimed that the wolf population could not be sustained at that level. (Many of us attending wanted to know…how do they know, they’ve been unwilling to try.)

After a lunch break, 14 or 15 of those attending made public comments, including me. I had several topics that I was ready cover, but did not want to cross over into much of anything that would be commented on by others, so I held off until about the middle of the public comment period. Several very well spoken individuals sent a graphic message to the committee in regard to the devastation that wolves have dealt (and continue to deal) wildlife and livestock populations. Gary Marbut, president of the MT Shooting Sports Association did a great job of covering the dangers of hydatid disease, and expressing how Montana should go ahead with plans for a 2010 wolf management hunt, whether it has the blessing of the U.S. District Court or not, and that is was time for legislators to establish that we will manage wolves in this state in the manner that best fits the needs of the residents of this state. In the voices of those testifying, it was easy to hear the pent up frustration of having to deal with wolves - directly or through the stress they create. What was missing, was the anger that has been created because of a state wildlife agency that has been a too willing victim to USFWS bullying…and a very biased federal court.

That was, until I walked up behind the microphone.

In no uncertain terms, I let FWP (and the committee) know that I was extremely unhappy with the manner in which FWP has conducted itself with wolf management in this state. The topics I trampled on were that…The wolf reintroduction is not the great conservation success story wildlife agencies like to tout, but rather the greatest ecological disaster of our lifetimes…That USFWS violated the purpose and intention of the Endangered Species Act when they purposely dumped the wrong wolf back into the Northern Rockies ecosystem…That the wolf we now have to contend with is nearly twice as large, with nearly twice the appetite, creating nearly twice the devastation to wildlife and livestock…That before FWP can ever begin to take any kind of control of wolves in this state, they first have to acknowledge the true number of wolves in Montana…And that the agency does not have clue to how many wolves there really are…Nor does the agency have the technology to come even close.

Others from the stock growers associations, ranchers, and sportsmen repeatedly shared FWP’s inability to manage wolves, the never ending destruction of wildlife resources, livestock depredation, and their fear of the diseases wolves are spreading. Easily 3/4ths of those making comments were not happy with the wolf numbers in the state, FWP’s lack of real management, the millions of taxpayer dollars thrown away to instigate and to continue funding the idiocy of wolf reintroduction, and the seemingly complacent attitude of the FWP officials making presentations, who continue to soft sell the dangers of living with wolves. One FWP commissioner even commented that it was inevitable that wolves would have migrated back into Montana from Canada anyway. Of course, we had our “token environmentalists” there. One, who claimed to be a rancher from the Stevensville area, commented that he wanted more wolves. (And I think William Kornec, from Lincoln, made it a point to get his address…so we can ship him some more.) Another of those who commented stated that he felt FWP should make more effort to provide for the “non consumptive” outdoor types of Montana, like the bird watchers…and that he felt FWP ought to spend the money to establish “wolf watching areas”.

If anything, FWP should have come away from the meeting fully realizing that the tide has turned, those who are most affect by wolves have had enough - and they’re ready to fight…and to kill wolves. During the Q&A period that followed, when members of the EQC had FWP officials field a few questions, it was very apparent that those legislators indeed realized the frustration and anger of those who had commented. The manner in which FWP officials had to kind of huddle to answer the simplest of questions…like how many radio collared wolves are there in the state…or how many radio collared wolves were taken by hunters last season…or about hi-tech counting and locating devices which would make it easier for FWP to locate and get a more accurate wolf count was far less than professional. Most of us felt that “experts” should be able to cover such details without having to dig through a pile of materials.

Chairman Representative Vincent pretty much summed up the realization of the wolf problem, and the inability of FWP to get a handle on the true number of wolves in this state, when he commented that he just couldn’t understand how the number of wolf packs in the area where he lives in Northwest Montana went from just 1 pack two years ago to 6…7…or more packs - in less than two years.

After the meeting, I spent some time out in the halls of the Capitol Building shaking a few legislators hands, like Senator Debby Barrett, who actually requested this EQC meeting, and Senator Bruce Tutvedt, who has been for much closer management of wolves in this state. Several of you who also attended this meeting asked me if there had been anything I felt needed to be better covered, and I did share a few things. But right at the top of that list I added, “How much do think FWP needs to charge for those non-consumptive bird watching and wolf viewing permits…everyone has to pay something toward managing wolves…not just the hunter.”



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