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MLA Shypitka calls for more resources to wildlife disease response

Kootenay East official says more testing labs, emergency fund needed to combat Chronic Wasting Disease
The B.C. government is asking hunters to once again submit the heads of white-tail and mule deer for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing now that hunting season has begun. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka is calling on the B.C. government to commit more resources towards management and response to a fatal wildlife disease that was recently confirmed in two deer south of Cranbrook.

Speaking in the B.C. Legislature, Shypitka proposed the creation of a Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) emergency response fund, and further investments for in-province testing and safe disposal, particularly with an accredited lab in the East Kootenay region for faster testing turnaround times.

“By establishing an emergency response fund and in-province testing facilities, we can ensure a swift and effective response,” Shypitka said. “These proactive measures are our strongest defence against the disease and will ensure a complete response to significantly mitigate the impacts.

“With CWD now a reality, the call for action is louder than ever. We cannot afford to allow Chronic Wasting Disease to spread further across the province and put our wildlife populations and the communities who rely on it at risk.”

Two samples collected from dead deer near Cranbrook tested positive for Chronic Wasting Disease on Jan. 31.

CWD affects cervids, such as deer, moose, elk, and caribou, and is a condition of the central nervous system caused by infectious protein agents called prions, which kill cells in the brain as they accumulate and lead to neurological disease.

Prions also accumulate in other tissues and may be shed by the infected animal into water or on plants and bedding through saliva, urine and feces. It is 100 per cent fatal to wildlife with no known treatment. However it is not known to affect humans or livestock.

Currently, the only reliable way to test for CWD in cervids is through collecting and testing samples from an animal’s brain or lymph nodes in the throat, which requires a laboratory and equipment as no rapid testing options are available.

While samples have historically been sent out of province to Saskatchewan, where testing turnaround could take up to a month or longer. However, that is now changing as samples are now being sent to a new diagnostic service at the BC Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, where turnaround times are expected to be shorter.

“I truly believe one of these testing facilities should be set up in Kootenay East, or ground zero as some refer,” Shypitka said, in his statement at the Legislature, later noting that testing turnaround times of two to three weeks is “absolutely critical.”

The two samples that tested positive near Cranbrook came from a roadkill female whitetail on Highway 3 south of Cranbrook as well as a harvested male mule deer in the South Country.

Following the positive test results, the province restricted the transport of cervids in within Management Units 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-5 and that portion of Wildlife Management Unit 4-22 inclusive of Highway 3, while also ordering mandatory testing within those same areas.

Additional mandatory testing for white tail deer is also in effect for Management Units 4-1 to 4-8 and 4-23 to 4-25, as part of a condition to secure a hunting license.

Recently, the province also issued a wildlife permit that allowed a harvest of up to 25 deer — 20 mule deer and five whitetail — in close proximity to where the first two cases were discovered, in an effort to collect more samples for testing.

The permit, which was issued to Yaq̓it ʔa·knuqⱡiʾit (Tobacco Plains Indian Band), expired on March 31.

Chronic Wasting Disease was discovered in the United States decades ago and has spread to states in the Pacific Northwest and into Western Canada.

Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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