Elk Hatcheries

Hunt is on for escaped elk herd
By Julie Cart

Los Angeles Times

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Hunters have fanned out across eastern Idaho in pursuit of about 100 selectively bred elk from a commercial game farm that officials fear could spread disease and introduce genetic defects into the population of wild Rocky Mountain elk, including a prized herd in Yellowstone National Park, just eight miles away.

Idaho's governor recently authorized a "depredation hunt" of the escaped elk, the first time such a hunt has been ordered, according to state wildlife officials. Authorities in neighboring Wyoming and Montana said they had given game wardens orders to shoot the domestic elk on sight. Tissue samples are being taken from the carcasses and tested for disease and genetic history.

"Time is of the essence. We have to try to get these animals back," said Steve Schmidt, regional state fish and game director. "They are a huge unknown to us. Any introduction of new genes might have unknown consequences."

The 10,000 to 15,000 elk in Yellowstone's resident herd for many years have been used as genetic feedstock to replenish herds elsewhere in the Rockies.

The elk that escaped from the game farm were selectively bred for a single trait, large antlers, and may not be hardy enough to survive in the wild — a weakness that could be passed on to wild elk. Officials are especially concerned about the prospect of interbreeding now, at the height of the mating season.

Distinguishing between the ranch-bred and wild elk may be difficult, because the escaped animals are identifiable only by metal ear tags that are smaller than state rules require, according to officials at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

The ear tags and fence maintenance are among several infractions for which ranch operator Rex Rammell has been cited in recent years. Porous fences, officials said, allow wild animals to get into commercial pens and breed with captive stock.

Rammell's elk fled through a damaged fence. The animals were raised on the 160-acre Chief Joseph Idaho game ranch, which Rammell owned until recently, where they were part of a herd selectively bred for large antlers, kept behind fences and then shot during private hunts by clients who paid up to $6,000.

"This is the train wreck we've seen coming for a long time," said Idaho Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker, who manages wildlife in a state with 78 game ranches, many more than in neighboring Wyoming and Montana, where private operations have been banned.

The pen from which the elk escaped is close enough to Wyoming and Montana that the domestic elk could wind up in either state.

"We banned game ranches to prevent this very situation," said Eric Keszler of Wyoming's Game and Fish Department.

Rammell accused Idaho wildlife officials of trampling his rights and making the situation worse.

"This is about private-property rights, and the state and Fish and Game are overstepping their bounds," Rammell said, adding that game wardens and hunters have driven them deep into dense forests.

He said that if his escaped elk had been left alone, he believes he could have rounded them up in a few weeks.

According to wildlife experts, domestic animals raised in close quarters are more likely to contract chronic wasting disease, which affects the brain and is similar to mad-cow disease, as well as brucellosis and tuberculosis.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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"Two elk minimum without adipose". Will it ever end? :beathead: I have nothing against legal hunting. My dad is still a elk fanatic at 74 and prides himself on taking those things on public hunting land. He does alot of scouting and stuff. After 9 months in Desert Shield/Storm and 18 months in Somalia, I 'd had enough of guns. That's just me. However I have never been able to figure out what kind of guy pays huge money to shoot a hand-fed animal on someone's ranch and then mounts it. Pretty soon idiots are going to be paying to catch "trophy" atlantics in Bremerton out of the aqua-culture pens. (Which are sterile and will not breed with other fish, right? Yeah right)

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