Bison cull urged in national park

Diseased bison will continue to show up in northern Alberta un-less the diseased Wood Buffalo National Park herd is killed and the park restocked with disease-free animals, said the past chair of the Alberta Bison Producers.

“The bottom line is someday we’ve got to recognize that the herd in the park has to be destroyed and replaced with disease free animals. That’s a 20 to 25 year project,” said Marv Moore, a Debolt area bison producer.

Two bison from the Wentzel Lake bison herd, outside the national park boundaries, recently tested positive for brucellosis and a third bison continues to be tested.

Brucellosis and tuberculosis have been part of the Wood Buffalo National Park herds for years. The bison contracted the diseases from cattle during the 1920s at what is now CFB Wainwright, when they were crossed with cattle to create beefalos.

The bison thought to be healthy, were then transferred to the northern park.

There are two diseased bison herds in North America. One belongs to the U.S. government at Yellowstone National Park. The Canadian government manages the second herd at Wood Buffalo National Park.

“All the rest of us are disease free by way of government laws in both countries,” said Moore during a recent bison meeting.

Concern that the bison will stray farther from their park and infect northern Alberta cattle herds and disease-free bison herds has prompted provincial government officials to continually monitor the wandering herds through surveillance flights.

“We want to make every effort to prevent contamination from happening,” said Dave Ealey, spokesperson from Alberta’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development department.

The province plans to remove all free-ranging wood bison near private agricultural land around Fort Vermilion, La Crete and within 10 kilometres of Highway 35.

Ealey said one of the diseased bison was shot by a northern hunter and samples sent to a laboratory. Provincial officials then shot and sampled four wood bison from the Wabasca herd near Harper Creek and seven bison from the Wentzel Lake herd in the Caribou Mountains Wildland Provincial Park. None of the animals tested positive for tuberculosis.

In the Northwest Territories, anthrax is believed to have killed 128 bison northwest of Fort Providence, prompting the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue an anthrax emergency response plan.

Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease in the soil. Animals that die of anthrax shed the bacteria. The most common way of infection is ingesting the spores while grazing. Other bison disease outbreaks have occurred in the same area.

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