A disease threatening Prairie deer populations

Hunters and land owners should know the sign of sick deer and what to do about them. Plus the final reader comments on EVs.

This week’s Flatlander contains part two of an article on chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the Prairie deer population. And we will look at a few final comments from readers about electric vehicles.

In late November, The Flatlander looked at chronic wasting disease, first found in Saskatchewan in 1996. Recently, it spread to Manitoba.

In that issue, a group called Sask CWD, which has a mission to spread accurate information about chronic wasting disease, wrote an article for The Flatlander called Chronic wasting disease and why we should care.

Since we ran the article, two more cases of CWD in mule deer were found in Manitoba near Dropmore and Coulter – where CWD had previously been identified. This brings the total known case count in Manitoba to seven. 

If the disease spreads throughout the province, it threatens the health of all of Manitoba’s deer populations. Young animals could die before they reach their prime breeding age, which is why scientists are trying to contain the disease. 

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In December 2021, helicopter sharpshooters killed 500 deer along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border in four days to contain the disease. Public outcry narrowed the area of the cull.

In addition to animal health concerns, there’s worry the disease could one day be transmitted to humans. If you recall, it’s similar to Mad Cow Disease. One Flatlander reader Janet from Sandy Bay, Saskatchewan, said her family switched to a plant-based diet in the 1990s because of concern over Mad Cow Disease.

She wrote in after our last issue on CWD :

We don’t need meat to stay alive or, in CWD cases, to kill us.
Eating meat is also hard on the planet.
Could Nature be telling us something?

Going vegetarian or vegan is a personal choice that people make for a variety of reasons. But for those of us who continue to eat meat, currently, there is no known risk to humans, but scientists recommend people don’t eat meat infected with CWD as a precautionary measure.  

In this second instalment by Sask CWD, they write about how landowners and hunters can recognize CWD and what they can do about it.

A whitetail deer. GETTY IMAGES.

Recognizing the symptoms of an animal that may be sick with CWD and what can landowners and hunters do

CWD is a fatal, infectious disease of the deer family, which includes deer, elk, caribou and moose. Unfortunately, the prevalence of  CWD is increasing right across Saskatchewan. For example, in the southwest areas of the province, where the disease is endemic and well-established, approximately 70 per cent of mule deer and 27 per cent of whitetail deer are infected with CWD.  

Landowners and hunters should know the signs of a sick animal and what to do if they come across one. 

A CWD-infected animal may appear healthy and be without symptoms for several years.

Symptoms usually appear about 16 to 36 months after infection, and then the disease progresses quickly. 

There are many symptoms, but the most obvious is progressive weight loss. 

Other reported changes include decreased social interaction with other animals, loss of awareness, and no fear of humans. 

Diseased animals may also exhibit increased drinking, urination, excessive salivation, listlessness, difficulty moving, lowering of the head, tremors, repetitive walking in set patterns, nervousness, grinding teeth and confusion.  

Landowners and hunters should contact their nearest conservation officer if they notice any big game animal exhibiting any of the above symptoms. 

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Hunters can check the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment’s website and Manitoba’s Natural Resources and Northern Development website to keep informed on CWD.

When hunting, people should not shoot, handle or consume any animal acting abnormally or appearing sick. Hunters are encouraged to field dress animals in their harvested area and wash their equipment thoroughly.  

If hunting within a high CWD risk area, carcasses should be field dressed and deboned near the harvest location, and people should only bring back low-risk parts (deboned meat, cleaned skull plate, antlers). 

Hunters should get their deer, moose, elk or caribou head tested and wait for a negative result before consuming the meat. 

If hunters have their animals commercially processed, they should request that their animals be prepared individually.

A few Flatlander readers wrote in last week to raise some ideas we didn’t explore in our work on EVs.

Kelsey raised concerns about what the demand for lithium will do to our water supply. 

He wrote: 

The chemical processes needed to refine the precious metals and to create the chemicals inside the battery are far dirtier and more toxic than smog caused by gasoline engines. We will be saving the air while sacrificing our water supply. This assumes there are enough precious metals to meet global demand. Have you ever seen the mess left behind by lithium and other precious metal mining?

Generally, mining is an invasive industry and environmentally damaging, even when work is done to mitigate the harm.

And when it comes to lithium mining, water contamination is a concern. 

In 2021, ranchers, Indigenous people and environmental groups in Nevada actively opposed lithium mining in their area. They tried to have it blocked with court intervention because the mine is expected to use billions of gallons of groundwater and potentially contaminate the water for up to 300 years.

In 2016, protestors threw dead fish onto the streets of Tagong, a town in Tibet. The fish, along with local livestock, had been poisoned after a toxic chemical leak from a lithium mine contaminated the river.

Car companies are aware of these problems, which is why the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance exists. It is an organization meant to vet mines for companies like BMW and Ford to avoid doing more harm than good. 

Meanwhile, countries worldwide, including Canada and the U.S., are jockeying to dominate the mineral market and secure their place in what is seen as the new global economy centred around nickel, lithium and cobalt.

This political desire in Canada was highlighted this month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Vital Metal, a rare earth extraction plant in Saskatoon. 

Although Premier Scott Moe was snubbed during this visit, the Saskatchewan Party has been on board with providing incentives to these industries, as we highlighted in our lithium mining story last year. Manitoba is also welcoming to the industry.

The Saskatchewan NDP statements about Trudeau’s visit also seem to support the industry. Party leader Carla Beck said the Prime Minister’s visit was a chance to showcase investment and innovation in Saskatchewan.  

Lithium mining in pictures

To Kesley’s point about what lithium mining looks like, you can look at some photos below.

Lithium isn’t just used in EVs but also in our cell phones and laptops. 

Kelsey thinks EVs will not be the environmental silver bullet that people think. 

When it comes to electric vehicle use in farming, that will have to merit a closer look in a future issue of The Flatlander, as one reader Paul writes:

Besides the fact that I can never afford new farm machinery, it will be years and years before used electric will be available. I still think about the logistics of having electric farm equipment. I like the idea of getting rid of the computer-laden, emissions-stifled engines we have now.

Electric farm equipment seems unhandy because one would need to recharge the batteries, likely daily. One of the most time-consuming activities I have with machinery is moving them. For instance, when I move seeding equipment, it can take a good part of a day. If I had to move them (tractor, seed truck, fertilizer truck, sprayer, water truck, auger, service trucks etc.) home again each night to recharge, that is about all I would get done. Most of the places I would be operating the equipment have no electricity service, not even any power lines. Of course, an easy solution would be a hellish big diesel generator that could run all night to charge the batteries. 

Another thing is the idea of charging the batteries on 400-kilowatt tractor and a couple 300 kilowatt heavy trucks, and a bevy of smaller systems each night gives me visions of the skinny little single-phase line getting hot and glowing in the dark. Multiply that by tens of thousands of farms during seeding and harvest. 

Another reader asked, “What about large (electric) transport vehicles? Heavier, therefore, more wear and tear on current highways.”

Indeed, EVs are heavier, and the impact they will have on road maintenance is also worth looking into. We will also have to look into that in a future issue.

Five stories from Manitoba you may have missed

  1. Manitoba school divisions seek ‘uncertified’ substitute teachers amid shortage
  2. Winnipeg costume designer says Manitoba consultants shared Mennonite culture for Best Picture nominee 
  3. City of Winnipeg and federal government launch tree-planting program
  4. A timeline of what we know about 4 slain Winnipeg women and alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki
  5. Stone quarried only in Manitoba receives international heritage recognition 

Five stories from Saskatchewan you may have missed

  1. Sask. regional park now holds world record for longest line of water inflatables
  2. Hundreds of deer descended on a Sask. farmer’s property. Then the coyotes came.
  3. ‘It’s going to help the youth’: EGADZ launching missing person app for Saskatchewan
  4. Saskatchewan’s fur industry shaken during COVID-19 pandemic
  5. Watrous wages war on the Empire with TIE fighter replica

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