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Old Aug 24th 2009, 07:07 AM   #1
 Russell's Avatar
Site Founder
  Mar 2009
  Edmonton, Alberta CANADA

Cervid: Western Canadian white-tailed deer
Sound bugle in name of success (commentary)


*Trent Loos is a rancher, host of the "Loos Tales" radio show, public speaker and founder of Faces of Agriculture, which puts the human element back into food production. Find out more at, or e-mail

THE North American Elk Breeders Assn. (NAEBA), both as an association and for its individual members, has defied all odds and is surviving.

Honestly, six years ago, when the group first brought me in, I felt like its last-ditch effort for survival. They were beat up, lied about and tossed aside.

My most recent visit with the association proved otherwise. The elk breeder has more intestinal fortitude than anyone could have ever imaged.

Joel Espe, the retiring president of NAEBA from Monticello, Wis., often refers to the elk as a "majestic" creature, and that stands without question, but it does bring about mixed emotions.

People -- me included -- simply marvel at the sight of such an animal with a rack way too big for its head and a bugle sure to attract attention. I think the term majestic is absolutely accurate.

Along with majestic, though, comes a rash of emotions that have worked against the best elk enthusiasts our nation has: the elk breeders. The more confining our lives get, the more we, as a society, press for freedom.

You see, we have confined ourselves to the office and tied ourselves to cell phones, e-mail and text messages, and when we think of majestic animals, we want what we don't have, and that is the freedom to just roam.

Consequently, 23 states now have laws that prevent individual property owners from using their property as they see fit. These 23 states have laws that will not allow ranch hunting or hunting elk or deer behind a fence. There is a considerable effort every year to increase that list of restricted states.

The really tough thing for elk or deer breeders is that they are not only fighting against the likes of the animal rights community, but they are, in some cases, fighting even hunting enthusiasts.

For the life of me, I cannot understand why someone who enjoys and appreciates hunting would openly state that hunting behind a fence is bad. We need "fair chase," they claim.

Fair chase is between the buyer and seller. If I have a pen of steers here at my house and someone calls to buy a half of beef, should some neighbor or "big brother" tell me that I need to turn the steer back into the pasture and that we will instead need to "hunt" him down, where he has a chance to get away? NO! It is my property. It is the respectful harvest and consumptive use of the product that matters.

Even our nation's oldest conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt, suggested during his presidency that deer and elk farming should be diversity for all farmers to consider.

The "society" making decisions for me and other property owners is where this is going in a real hurry. No one is telling the hunter where he must hunt. We are simply saying that uninvolved parties should not try to make decisions for others.

Another myth that continues to be perpetuated throughout this great land is the notion that cervid (deer or elk) breeders are the source of all diseases and genetic disorders ever afflicting the species and perhaps even some diseases that haven't been heard of yet.

How can any human being ever rationalize that the animals under human management and constant monitoring are in poorer health than those running wild? It just doesn't make any sense.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) can still be found in a few regions of the country, but in places like Wisconsin, the deer and elk farmers have implemented an aggressive monitoring program and will soon completely eradicate the disease.

On the other hand, state-owned deer are seeing slight increases in the prevalence of CWD. In fact, if the government would implement the same strategy as the deer and elk breeders, we would be well along the road to eradication.

Again, how can anyone suggest that human management of a species is inferior to the wild, random inbreeding and uncontrolled health of free-roaming animals?

My final thought comes back full circle to the people involved in farm-raising elk. I did not hear one person at NAEBA whine or complain about what they were dealing with. I only witnessed individuals who continually find a way to survive and thrive.

When I asked the NAEBA members how they did it, the common response was that they would find something else to sell. They now sell ivory from teeth to jewelers, hides for leather, elk antlers for preventive health, meat for nutrition and breeding stock, when possible.

I am sounding the bugle on behalf of the elk breeders of our nation, because they continue to find a way to follow their passion and do what they truly believe is right.
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