Biodiversity, chronic wasting disease and football

Chronic Wasting Disease continues to spread across Saskatchewan. it was first detected here in 1996, and yet many people know little about it.

Hello Flatlanders,

We have looked at the biodiversity across Saskatchewan and Manitoba in past issues—from the grasslands to the boreal forest. We have looked at gophersmosquitoes, and Canada geese. In future issues, we’ll look at caribou and polar bears—two animals people don’t think of when talking about the Canadian Prairies.

The variety of plants and animals on the Prairies is essential in preventing disease. A reader named Regina wrote in to express her concern about her dying green ash trees, which we learned are endangered because of the emerald ash borer.

Saskatoon and Winnipeg went all in on planting green ash to replace the elm trees, but in hindsight, they should have planted a variety of trees to make it more difficult for the emerald ash borer to spread.

There are many other reasons why biodiversity is important, including tourism. 

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Many outfitting businesses in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan cater to American tourists who come here to hunt and fish.

And many local hunters enjoy hunting recreationally and as a source of food security when groceries get too expensive. (A friend of mine joked that she would have to take out a second mortgage to buy meat. Inflation in grocery stores is a problem. And some Canadians are now skipping meals to save money). 

But hunting might not always be a secure source of food. As we explored in a past issue of The Flatlander, moose populations are declining in some parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And recently, I was approached by a group called Sask CWD, which has a mission to spread accurate information about chronic wasting disease (CWD), which is now in both Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Sask CWD is writing a series of articles for The Flatlander about the disease and what we can do to prevent it from spreading to help preserve our wildlife in the Prairies.

CWD affects deer, elk, and moose, food sources not only for humans but also wolves, cougars, and birds.

We’ve all probably seen crows picking away at a deer carcass on the side of a road. The circle of life depends upon biodiversity and preventing disease.

Below is the first article about CWD from the group, fact-checked by me. They plan to write more in the weeks and months, so they won’t all come out consecutively. 

Mule deer. GETTY IMAGES.

Chronic Wasting Disease and why we should care

Chronic Wasting Disease continues to spread across the province of Saskatchewan, as it has since it was first detected here in 1996, and yet many people still know little or nothing about it.

Chronic Wasting Disease, CWD for short, was first diagnosed in the USA in 1978.

Scientifically known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE), CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects deer, elk, moose, and caribou for which there is no known cure.

CWD was initially detected in Saskatchewan in a game-farmed elk in the Lloydminster area in 1996 and spread to wild Mule Deer in 2000. It has since spread to other regions of Saskatchewan through farmed and wild populations of the deer family.

CWD is most prevalent in western Saskatchewan in the Mule Deer population, particularly male mule deer, but is slowly spreading to white-tailed deer, elk, and moose across the province and into Alberta along the Saskatchewan border.

In October 2021, CWD, for the first time, was detected in Manitoba in a male mule deer in the southwest part of the province. As a result of the discovery, Manitoba banned hunting those animals in an area from Brandon north and west to the Saskatchewan border.

CWD is in the same family of diseases as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle (also known as “mad cow disease”) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

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To date, CWD is not known to be able to spread to humans through the consumption of meat. However, Mad Cow Disease did.

In the United Kingdom (UK) in the 1990s, there was a “mad cow disease” epidemic. As a result, 177 people died after eating cattle products infected with BSE.

They had contracted Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a new and rare prion disease that is a TSE, as is CWD and BSE. No vaccine or treatment is available, and the disease is always fatal.

Although the transmission of CWD to humans has not been proven, it remains a possibility and transmission to humans cannot be excluded. The vCJD outbreak in the UK shows that the “species barrier” may not completely protect humans from prion diseases like CWD.

As a precaution, Health Canada, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization recommend that people not eat meat or other parts of any CWD-infected animal.

Visit and like Sask CWD on Facebook for more factual information and updates about the disease and efforts to control its spread.

Sask CWD is a page created by concerned citizens to share factual information about CWD and to educate anyone interested. It’s a forum where questions can be asked, and conversations can be held with other concerned members of the public.

Sask CWD has no government affiliation or oversight.

Feedback from Roughrider fans

A few Rider fans wrote me last week to say they did not appreciate my empathy towards the Blue Bombers in last week’s issue. As a Saskatchewanian, I prefer a western team to win if the Riders aren’t in the Grey Cup. I am certainly not speaking for all Saskatchewanians.

Janet wrote:

Downer? Why? You mean Rider fans were actually cheering for Winnipeg??

Myra wrote:

You forgot to mention that the Rider Fans were cheering for Toronto — THE 13TH MAN IS ALWAYS A FACTOR IN HOME GAMES. 

She also did not like my choice of words.

Also, a typo: AJ Ouellette luckily did not ‘ramble’ or even ‘scramble,’ which is something quarterbacks do. He is a running back who had a five-yard touchdown RUN. Please don’t write about things you know very little about. 

Ramble wasn’t a typo. It was a play on the word scramble. I was thinking of it literally as a rambling run. But Myra is right. I should have just used the word run.  

The rule of thumb in journalism these days is to use more “sterile” language or risk alienating readers in this age of polarization.

And to Myra’s other point, journalists often write about what we know very little about.

I think about it often, ever since I got one of my first jobs 20 years ago at the Regina Leader-Post as a general assignment reporter. 

There is a comic I came across once that accurately describes a reporter’s day-to-day.

Readers let you know if you get it wrong, even the smallest typo or brain blip. See the discussion of the 10-gallon pail issue from last week.

What’s your favourite holiday memory? 

With the abundance of holidays, the close of the year is a natural time to reflect and celebrate those around us. 

The Prairies have their own unique holiday traditions—your stories matter, and the Prairies matter, which is why I started The Flatlander. 

So this season, I’d love to know: what’s your fondest holiday story? Do you have a favourite Prairie holiday tradition? What did you want for Christmas as a kid?

We’re celebrating this holiday season by compiling stories, traditions and memories from around the Prairies. 

Until next week…

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Thanks for reading, and kind regards,

Kelly-Anne Riess

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